The robotic cube named Astrobee will float around and help astronauts keep things in order in their space home.
By Jay Bennett
At the Intelligent Robotics Group at NASA Ames Research Centre, engineers are working on a little robot cube that will be launched to the International Space Station later this year. The one-foot-cube robot will fly around the ISS with its tiny fan-powered thrusters to help astronauts with a variety of tasks.
The little bot is being designed to replace the SPHERES robots that currently orbit on the ISS. Astrobee, however, will come with a few new tricks to make life easier in space. The cube bot will be able to operate autonomously or be controlled from the NASA Johnson Space Centre in Houston. It will take inventory of thousands of tools and supplies with its radio-frequency identification (RFDI) scanners and constantly monitor the environmental conditions aboard the space station. Houston will also be able to use cameras on Astrobee to observe the astronauts and science experiments, something that astronauts currently need to mount stationary cameras for.
Three Astrobee bots will be launched to the ISS, though only two will be operational at one time. By taking care of multiple housekeeping and monitoring tasks, Astrobee will free up the astronauts to focus on science experiments and research. Plans are also underway to test magnetic propulsion systems on the Astrobee robots, technology that could be used in the future for swarms of satellites working together and flying in formation. (One potential use for a satellite swarm would be to build a giant space telescope of multiple distinct sats.)
To test Astrobee, the researchers at Ames have mounted the boxy bot on a sled with CO2 jets to keep it floating just above a polished surface of granite. On the ISS, Astrobee will float freely, using its robotic arm to grasp handholds and navigate the station.
An astronaut’s time aboard the ISS is highly valuable, and we want to give them as much opportunity as possible to conduct research and experimentation. Soon, Astrobee will take some of the busywork of space life off their hands.
Source: IEEE Spectrum
This article was originally written for and published by Popular Mechanics USA.