Last July 7 at Wallops Flight Facility, NASA launched Black Brant IX , a suborbital sounding rocket to test “wireless-in-space” with XBee and Arduino :
Onboard the rocket was an experiment testing Exo-Brake technology. XBee was used to collect sensor data including temperature, air pressure, and 3-axis acceleration parameters. NASA is considering Exo-brakes as a possible solution for returning cargo from the International Space Station (ISS), orbiting platforms or as possible landing mechanisms in low-density atmospheres. This was one of many tests used to analyze its effectiveness, but the first to incorporate an XBee connected sensor network. If you would like to read more about the Exo-brake, check out this article.
Wireless sensor technology allows measuring important parameters such as aerodynamic pressure and temperature at the apex of the Exo-Brake during re-entry. It is very difficult to instrument a deployable parachute like the Exo-Brake, and wireless sensor modules provide the means for this type of measurement where it is difficult to run wires,” said Rick Alena, computer engineer at NASA Ames.
The NASA team constructed a gateway using an Arduino Mega, XBee, and Iridium module. The Arduino Mega was used to manage communications between the local XBee wireless network and the long-range Iridium satellite uplink. It was chosen as part of a NASA initiative to use commercial off-the-shelf components where possible, and to employ rapid prototyping tools to efficiently explore new ideas.
See the diagram below to get a detailed view into how the network was configured.