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Astrobee Team Lets Students From Across the World Run Their Robotic Programming Software on the International Space Station
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Astrobee Team Lets Students From Across the World Run Their Robotic Programming Software on the International Space Station

For the first time, student finalists in an international robotics competition were able to run their code onboard the Astrobee free-flying robot “Bumble”, one of two Astrobees operating in the International Space Station (ISS). The event, held on October 8th, 2020, was the first annual Kibo Robot Programming Challenge (Kibo-RPC) Finals, and was attended by thousands of students via live broadcast. Student teams from Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) were the finalists who were able to run their software on Bumble. Astronaut Chris Cassidy interacted with the students by answering questions during the activity.

Overall, the activity was extremely successful, enabling all of the student finalists to run their code within the time allocated for the activity, some even multiple times. The Kibo-RPC program expects to repeat the event next year. To enable the Kibo-RPC Finals, the Astrobee Facility team overcame significant challenges associated with remote work-from-home operations support. Future activities will upgrade the Astrobee Dock to provide more robust remote operations support, improve localization technologies, and support many other researchers. Kibo-RPC is run by the Japanese Aerospace eXploration Agency (JAXA) in collaboration with NASA.

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 were developed under the Human Exploration Telerobotics 2 (HET2) project and are currently managed by the Astrobee Facility project.

NASA PROGRAM FUNDING: The Astrobee Facility project is funded by the ISS Program’s Research Integration Office. The HET2 project was 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: This was a collaboration between the Japan Aerospace eXploration Agency (JAXA) and NASA. The Astrobee Facility team includes Jonathan Barlow, Jose Benavides, Roberto Carlino, Jose Cortez, Ruben Garcia Ruiz, Sonny Hwang, Simeon Kanis, Aric Katterhagen, Andres Mora Vargas, Ernest Smith, and Don Soloway.

Significant support was also provided by the Intelligent Robotics Group’s Integrated Structural Assembly of Advanced Composites (ISAAC) project team (past members of the Astrobee development team), and ISS Program members at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) and Marshal Space Flight Center (MSFC).

POINT OF CONTACT: Jose Benavides,

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