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Bee-ing in space for the first time

21 June 2019

One of Nasa’s new free-flying Astrobee space robots, Bumble, has completed its first initial hardware check in space. Bumble, and another robot named Honey, launched to the space station on 17th April aboard Northrop Grumman’s eleventh commercial resupply services mission from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. When needed the robots will be able to return to their docking station on their own and recharge their battery power.

Astrobee is a free-flying robot system that will provide a research platform for the orbiting laboratory. The system includes three robots as well as a docking station for recharging. Robots will play a significant part in the agency’s mission to return to the Moon as well as other deep space missions. Astrobee will be used to test how robots can assist crew and perform caretaking duties on spacecraft. This will increase astronaut productivity and help maintain spacecraft when astronauts are not present near the Moon, Mars or other deep-space outposts.

Propelled by electric fans, the robots can fly and navigate autonomously inside the space station using their built-in software and six cameras. Designed to assist astronauts, softly humming as they go, the Astrobees will do housekeeping chores, such as monitoring equipment and performing inventory.

The robots can fly solo, going about their business independently or they can be managed by astronauts or flight controllers. Equipped with cameras, a microphone and other sensors, they provide flying “eyes” and “ears” that will allow flight controllers to remotely monitor conditions and remotely perform work on the station from the ground.