New Robots on Way to the ISS

(See my other posts on Robots) – Today’s Cygnus cargo flight with 7,600 pounds of science, supplies & cargo for the ISS includes a pair of new robots. These will replace the current SPHERES robots on the International Space Station (ISS). The Astrobee robots have been developed by the Intelligent Robotics Group at the NASA Ames Research Center.

The new Astrobee robots are autonomous cubes designed to be flown around the ISS. The first pair of Astrobee robots are named Honey and Bumble. A third named Queen is scheduled to fly to the ISS later this year. These are very modular robots with hardware and software designed for a wide range of tasks and experiments. 

The robots are intended to fly around the ISS autonomously, perform experiments, and take video. While they will generally be operated by humans from the ground, they will occasionally operate without any supervision.

Each Astrobee robot is about 12 inches (30 cm) square.  They will use pressurized air from 12 different nozzles to propel themselves around the ISS. They can rotate in any direction and have no need to refuel as air is compressed and used from the ISS atmosphere.

The Astrobees are based on ROS and are equipped with six cameras, sensors, and enough computing power to allow them to operate autonomously. They can be fitted with modular payloads in their three different payload bays for a variety of experiments. Later this year a small arm will become available for manipulating objects and grabbing hold for maintaining their position. The robots will be able to undock, redock and perch within the ISS independently of the crew.

The robots should complete their checkout before the end of April. After that, they will map and be calibrated for the ISS modules. Final commissioning of the entire Astrobee system should be complete before the end of the year.

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