On the International Space Station, there are others besides humans. NASA robots, to be specific. Astrobees are free-flying robots in the shape of cubes that have been assisting astronauts with their work inside spacecraft for some time. For the first time, two Astrobees are now coexisting with people and operating independently.
In the past, Astrobees have functioned singly or required direct assistance from humans to continue working. However, in the most recent NASA film, two Astrobees dubbed Queen (foreground) and Bumble (background) can be seen operating separately alongside astronauts Raja Chari and Matthias Maurer (farthest from the camera).
A docking charging station, some software, and three cube-shaped robots make up the Astrobee system. Their width is around 32 centimeters. To move in the International Space Station’s microgravity, the three robots use electric fans as their primary means of propulsion.
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With the aid of cameras and sensors, they “look about” and explore their environment. Each robot has a perching arm that enables it to grip handrails to either save energy or grab and hold objects. They may automatically go back to their docking station to start charging when their battery is low.
The SPHERES (Synchronised Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellite) robots, which have been functioning on the International Space Station for more than ten years, served as the foundation for the Astrobee robots. The Astrobee system will replace SPHERES as the robotic testing platform for the space station once it is fully operational.
Astrobee’s mapping and imaging research is a component of the Integrated System for Autonomous and Adaptive Caretaking (ISAAC) project, which is overseen by NASA’s Ames Research Center.
Astrobees are being trained by project scientists as part of ISAAC to assist spacecraft monitoring, maintenance, and other operations autonomously. Astrobees might undertake mundane tasks, freeing up human operators for more difficult work while also enhancing the safety and efficiency of space missions.
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More significantly, Astrobees may play a crucial role in future spacecraft like the Gateway space station that won’t always have crews on board. These will require autonomous robots to maintain operations when humans are absent.