First launched into space in 2018, each member of the trio, shaped like a cube and 12.5 inches (just over 30 centimeters) wide, is tasked with helping the ISS occupants perform important — but often tedious — tasks such as taking inventory, built-in cameras including documenting experiments, or transporting cargo throughout the station. Honey and Bumble got up first and quickly followed the queen.
“In addition to making spaceflight safer and more economical, robotic assistants like Astrobis can handle routine tasks, freeing humans for more complex tasks,” NASA said. One day, these space robots could even accompany astronauts on future missions to the moon, such as NASA’s Project Artemis, to Mars and, potentially, to deep space.
A new milestone
NASA said last week that two astrobees — Queen and Bumble — have been able to operate independently alongside their mortal counterparts. “In previous experiments, the robots worked on their own or required more active assistance from their human colleagues,” NASA said.
In the foreground, Rani (mint green) captures its first 360-degree panoramic image of the interior of the ISS, according to NASA. Up ahead, a small bumblebee (blue) can be seen testing its navigation capabilities with what’s called the Harmony Module, an on-board service center, and collecting new map data from the station.
According to the agency, both of these tests are part of the Integrated Systems for Autonomous and Adaptive Caretaking Project (ISAAC), the organization that oversees the AstroB system. ISAAC researchers are also responsible for these robots’ docking stations, where they return to “rest, rest” and above all (literally) recharge when their batteries are low.
Help that becomes autonomous
Beyond learning standard spacecraft monitoring and maintenance capabilities, the ISAAC team is trying to make these robots as autonomous as possible, although Astrobis can be manually remote-controlled if needed. Indeed, in the future, spacecraft like the Chandra Gateway space station “will not be manned year-round and will need intelligent, autonomous robots to monitor things in the absence of humans,” the agency said. NASA.
These droids are not the first synthetic workers in Earth orbit. Their legacy lies with NASA’s Spheres robots, which have been living alongside scientists in space for more than a decade now. Although the spheres are quite similar to astrobis, they are built with older technology. Eventually, the Astrobees are expected to take over, giving their predecessors a befitting retirement.
In April, the agency said Astrobees had flown more than 750 hours aboard the ISS, performed more than 100 missions, and proved themselves capable of feats previously the stuff of science fiction, such as successfully reported and simulated probes. Inconsistency on board at stations independently.
Last year, for example, astronauts tweaked the station’s life support systems to detect very high concentrations of carbon dioxide (false). Bumble quickly notices this, navigates to the ISS to figure out what’s wrong, actually finds the problem (a fake “sock” blocking a vent) and calls for help.
With Honey, Quinn and Bumble, reality seems to be slowly approaching fiction and maybe one day astronauts will have their own tars, keeps and cases (Interstellar) to accompany them into space.
CNET.com article adapted by CNETFrance