Humans are not alone on the International Space Station. For a while, free-flying cube robots called Astrobees helped astronauts with their onboard missions. Now, for the first time ever, two Astrobees have begun working independently alongside humans.
In the past, Astrobees operated one by one or needed operational support from operators to continue operating. But in the latest video released by NASA, two superstars named Quinn (in the foreground) and Bumble (in the background) can be seen working independently alongside astronauts Raja Chari (closest to the camera) and Matthias Maurer (farthest from the camera). .
For the first time, Astrobee’s robotic assistants were on board @space station They work independently alongside their human counterparts! Robots are an important component of Tweet embedassignment, help manage routine tasks and save time for the crew. https://t.co/lQFce0QSH9 pic.twitter.com/POHFO4QXhK
– ISS Research (@ISS_Research) July 22 2022
The Astrobee system consists of three cube-shaped robots, some software and a docking charging station that is used for recharging. It is about 32 cm wide. The three robots propel themselves using electric propellers that allow them to fly through the microgravity environment of the International Space Station.
They “look around” and navigate their surroundings using cameras and sensors. All robots are equipped with a crouching arm that allows them to grip the handrail either to conserve energy or to grab objects. When they run out of charge, they can automatically return to the docking station to start recharging.
Astrobee robots are built on knowledge gained from operating the SPHERES (Synchronous Position Stabilization, Engagement, Redirection, and Experimental Satellite) robots operating on the International Space Station over a decade ago. Once the Astrobee system is fully operational, it will take over the SPHERES mission as a robotic test facility for the space station.
In the latest development, Bumble tested its navigation capability on the Harmony module and collected new map data for the station while Quinn took the first 360-degree panoramic image of the orbiting laboratory.
Astrobee’s mapping and imaging experiments are part of the Integrated System for Self-Adaptive Care (ISAAC) project, which is managed at NASA’s Ames Research Center.
As part of ISAAC, project scientists have taught Astrobees to independently support spacecraft observation, maintenance, and other missions. Aside from making space missions safer and more cost-effective, Astrobees can run routine work that would free up human operators to do more complex work.
More importantly, Astrobees could be useful in future spacecraft that won’t be operated year-round, such as the Gateway space station. These will need autonomous robots to keep things safe when humans are away.