The National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA) is using a product designed by Digi International to help establish “wireless-in-space” communications, the Minnetonka-based technology company announced Saturday.
 
A cuboid-shaped device, approximately the size of a fire extinguisher, which contained Digi XBee radio frequency (RF) modules was released into Earth’s orbit (about 250 miles above the surface) by the International Space Station on Monday.
 
Digi’s RF modules will operate as wireless “data-crossroads,” sending messages between key components of the cuboid satellite. Once every ten seconds, orbital data gathered by the satellite will be transmitted using Digi’s RF modules. That information — which includes the satellite’s translational acceleration, angular rate, surrounding magnetic field, atmospheric pressure, temperature and strain — will be sent to NASA and used in the design of future satellites.
 
Currently, data communications are transmitted through wired connections, Digi said. By upgrading to a wireless communication network, NASA could make its space-bound vehicles and objects lighter, increase their payload capacity and create new communication models (such as a mesh network for satellites to relay information wirelessly).
 
“This is another example of the limitless possibilities of wireless communication,” said Digi’s chief innovation officer Rob Faludi in a statement. “NASA is continually expanding the boundaries of creating and applying innovative technologies and we’re thrilled to be part of these efforts.”
 
Digi’s XBee modules will also see use in a second NASA mission: the testing of its new de-orbit system.
 
When a payload is sent from space to a planet’s surface, rocket technology is typically required to prevent an object from falling too fast and crashing. However, NASA has developed a parachute-like device dubbed the Exo-Brake. The device uses “drag” technology to help de-orbiting objects resist extremely high speeds and low air pressure, allowing for objects to descend to the surface over a period of weeks.
 
Digi’s XBees will again be used to transmit data on the performance of the Exo-Brake.
 
Ultimately, NASA hopes the data gathered during the Exo-Brake testing will lead to the establishment of an “on-demand” system, which will allow the International Space Station to send samples back to Earth safely.

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