Astronauts are going to get company at the ISS in the form of Astrobees, the free-flying robots that could float around the station to assist the crew with their space duties. Engineers at the Intelligent Robotics Group at NASA Ames Research Center are working on little cubes that will fly around the ISS. Powered with tiny fan thrusters to help astronauts with a variety of tasks, the robots will be launched to the International Space Station later this year.
These one-foot-cube robots are being designed to replace the SPHERES robots that are currently orbiting on the space station. Short for Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites, the current bots arrived at the space station in 2006. Compared to the present working space robots, these new ones will come with a few new tricks to make life easier in space.
Each Astrobee cube bot will be able to operate by itself in the ISS or be controlled from the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston. The adorable free-flying bots will perform a variety of tasks in the station. Mainly, they will take inventory of thousands of tools and supplies with its radio-frequency identification (RFDI) scanners, the Popular Mechanics reported.
They will also constantly monitor the environmental conditions aboard the space station. In addition, ground control in Houston will also be able to use cameras on the cube bots to observe astronaut performance and science experiments. Currently, astronauts have to mount stationary cameras to record experiments.
Finally, the flying Astrobees will also assist NASA astronauts in locating lost items inside the ISS, according to Business Insider. The project manager at NASA Ames Research Center, Chris Provencher, says that the best part of the new robot project is that it can fly around inside the space station without the crew having to supervise it. Students at MIT came up with the idea for robots that could be used in space in 1999 when their professor asked them to build a copy of the Jedi-training drone from "Star Wars".