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First Free-Flying Astrobee Robot Powered Up on the International Space Station
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First Free-Flying Astrobee Robot Powered Up on the International Space Station

On Tuesday, April 30th, the first Astrobee free-flying robot — "Bumble Bee" — was unpacked and powered up aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Astronaut Anne McClain had the honor of being the first crew member to welcome and work with the robot on the ISS. The first commissioning session focused on initial check-out of Astrobee's major subsystems: avionics, cameras, propulsion, and docking (for power and data transfer), which are all operating nominally. The next Astrobee session is tentatively scheduled for May 13th and will focus on calibrating and mapping of the ISS’ Japanese Experiment Module (JEM).

BACKGROUND: The Astrobees are next-generation free-flying robots that operate in the interior of the ISS. Their primary purpose is to provide a flexible platform for research on zero-gravity free-flying robotics, with the ability to carry a wide variety of future research payloads and guest science software. They also serve utility functions: as free-flying cameras to record video of astronaut activities, and as mobile sensor platforms to conduct surveys of the ISS. They are developed under the Human Exploration Telerobotics 2 (HET2) project.

The HET2 project demonstrates how telerobotics — robots remotely operated by astronauts or ground controllers — can be used to perform a variety of routine, highly repetitive, dangerous, and long-duration tasks. The primary goal of HET is to improve NASA’s understanding of the requirements, benefits, limitations, costs, and risks of integrating telerobotics into future deep-space exploration missions.

NASA PROGRAM FUNDING: The HET2 project is primarily funded by the Game Changing Development (GCD) program, under the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), with additional funding from the Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) program, under the Human Exploration and Operations Missions Directorate (HEOMD).

TEAM: The Astrobee team is composed of over 30 researchers, engineers, and technicians from the Intelligent Systems Division and the Engineering Directorate at NASA Ames Research Center and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.


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