First Astrobee robot completes initial checks aboard ISS
The International Space Station’s newest robotic helper, Astrobee, completed its first series of hardware tests aboard the outpost.
On April 30, 2019, NASA astronaut Anne McClain performed a series of hardware tests on Bumble, one of two Astrobee robots launched to the ISS on Northrop Grumman’s 11th Commercial Resupply Services flight from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.
After unpacking the robot and placing it in a docking station inside the space station’s Kibo module, McClain worked with the Astrobee team at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California to confirm all of the robots subsystems, including avionics, cameras, propulsion and docking for power, were functioning normally.
Bumble and its fellow robot Honey, are expected to begin flying inside the station this year. Commissioning of the entire system is expected to be complete by fall 2019
Astrobee builds on the legacy of the Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellite (SPHERES) system, the current robotic research platform aboard the space station. Once the Astrobee devices have been fully commissioned, they will replace SPHERES in this role.
The cube-shaped Astrobee robots use electric fans to fly freely throughout the space station. They can “see” and navigate their surroundings using cameras and sensors. They are also equipped with a perching arm, which allows them to grasp station handrails or grab and hold small objects.
Astrobee is being used to study how robots can assist astronauts and perform routine caretaking tasks on spacecraft. The free-flying devices can work either autonomously or via remote control by astronauts or ground-based flight controllers. Initial experiments using Astrobee are expected to begin in 2020.
Video courtesy of NASA
Jim Sharkey is a lab assistant, writer and general science enthusiast who grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, the hometown of Skylab and Shuttle astronaut Owen K. Garriott. As a young Star Trek fan he participated in the letter-writing campaign which resulted in the space shuttle prototype being named Enterprise. While his academic studies have ranged from psychology and archaeology to biology, he has never lost his passion for space exploration. Jim began blogging about science, science fiction and futurism in 2004. Jim resides in the San Francisco Bay area and has attended NASA Socials for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover landing and the NASA LADEE lunar orbiter launch.