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Four Things to Know About Astrobee

February 20, 2019

Astrobee is a little game-changing robot that will soon buzz around the International Space Station, aiding astronauts with routine tasks, testing technologies in zero-g and providing an extra set of eyes and ears for flight controllers in Houston.

Here are four things to know about this free-flying helper, which will make its way to the space station this spring as a set of three.

Learn more about Astrobee from this recent Space to Ground episode. Image Credit: NASA

1. Astrobee is independent

Astrobee builds on the success of SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold Engage and Reorient Experimental Satellites), NASA’s first generation free-flyer; however, the robots don’t need astronaut supervision. They can operate in a fully automated mode or remotely—for instance, from mission control in Houston. This freedom allows them to run more often and provides more time for testing.

2. Astrobee is small … but impactful

Boasting measurements of 1 foot by 1 foot—a neat little cube—Astrobee is certainly a space saver. But what the robots lack in stature, they make up in usefulness. The flyers will enable the automation of tasks, freeing up astronauts to conduct valuable research while the robots tackle the mundane. For example, with tens of thousands of tools and parts to keep track of, Astrobee can cruise through station to continually verify the location of items with its RFID scanner, instead of requiring astronauts to spend their time doing this by hand.

3. Astrobee tests game-changing technologies

For the engineers, researchers and scientists developing advanced technologies, operating Astrobee aboard the space station, sans astronaut supervision, means opportunities to experiment and test capabilities—and with lower risk. One game-changing technology ripe for integration is magnetic propulsion, which could provide a means to control swarms of satellites flying in formation. Instead of waiting years to launch an expensive set of satellites, it’s far easier for investigators to add magnetic propulsion modules for the Astrobee robots to test in zero-g, and with no risk of losing the mission in space.

4. Astrobee visited Johnson for acoustics testing

Though managed and developed at NASA’s Ames Research Center, the three Astrobee cubes and docking station made a stop at NASA’s Johnson Space Center for a barrage of acoustics testing in late January.  

Take a look at some of the action below.

Astrobee development engineers Vinh To and Roberto Carlino conduct acoustics testing on the Astrobee free flyers and docking station in the Acoustics and Noise Control Laboratory at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Image Credits: NASA/Robert Markowitz

Astrobee undergoes a barrage of acoustics testing on Jan. 30. Image Credit: NASA/Robert Markowitz
Astrobee undergoes a barrage of acoustics testing on Jan. 30. Image Credit: NASA/Robert Markowitz