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One Small Step for XBee, One Giant Leap for Wireless

Digi International Digi International
October 01, 2014
Soarex, a NASA sounding rocket, was launched into space with a Digi XBee® on-board.  The three-node network was the first Digi XBee Zigbee network to go to space. The rocket flew roughly 200 miles above the earth to test a parachute-like technology called an exo-brake. Exo-brakes are used to safely return samples from the Earth's orbit as well as land spacecrafts on other planets with much thinner atmospheres than Earth.

Typically the sensor devices collecting atmospheric readings are connected with wiring, but the team chose to move away from traditional wiring and experiment with a wireless network. They decided to use Digi XBee for a number of reasons. For one, less cabling on the spacecraft means less weight, which reduces the amount of fuel needed to fly the rocket. Another important feature is the ability to relay this data back down to earth via an Iridium satellite. The Soarex monitored six different acceleration parameters as well as temperature and air pressure.

This wireless network was part of NASAs effort to test the performance of wireless networks on a spacecraft and determine if its suitable for other applications. Due to the high cost associated with launching a rocket, the team must be extremely conservative when implementing new technology. Once the network performed multiple successful trials, the team had plans to incorporate Digi XBee into more and more vital missions.

When NASA chooses to experiment with new technology, the initial budget is relatively small, so the engineers went with off-the-shelf components to build out the network. The team worked with Digi's XBee ZigBee modules, Arduino microcontrollers, and Sparkfun's XBee adapter shields. The plan following the trial, if all was successful, was to build a more customized solution – with Digi XBee Plus as a key candidate.

Check out the following video to get an idea of where Digi XBee would be traveling in space.

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