NASA has had an exciting month; it announced early in June that it intended to open the ISS to private astronauts tours for $35,000 per night. In addition, NASA has now announced that on June 14 a robot called Bumble became the first Astrobee robot to fly under its own power in space. Astrobee robots are free-flying systems meant to help researchers test new tech in zero gravity.
Robots like Bumble can also perform routine work along with the astronauts living and working on the ISS. NASA sees a future where robots like Astrobee can be caretakers for the NASA lunar gateway and play a part in NASA's future missions exploring the Moon and Mars. Testing Bumble out on the ISS wasn't as simple as opening a crate and setting it free.
Before Bumble could perform its first solo flight, researchers at the NASA Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley verified that Bumble could find its position and was ready to navigate inside the ISS. An astronaut from the Canadian Space Agency called David Saint-Jacques provided hands-on assistance to manually move Bumble around the Kibo lab on the ISS so that the Astrobee navigation system could be calibrated to the new surroundings.
The bot's nav system includes a camera that can observe the surroundings and compares what the robot sees to a map of the space station interior. Astrobee can move in any direction and turn on any axis. The initial flight for Bumble tested out the robot's ability to perform basic motions such as "fly 11.8-inches forward" or "rotate 45 degrees to the right."
NASA says that it intends to continue testing Bumble's movement capability with a series of increasingly complicated maneuvers that are meant to determine how well the robot moves in zero gravity. Test results will help to tune Bumble to get the bot ready to assume its role on the ISS. Bumble is the second Astrobee on the ISS; the first was Honey arriving at the ISS in April. Queen will launch to the ISS in July becoming the third Astrobee active and buzzing around the station.