Astrobee is an autonomous, cube-shaped robot designed by NASA. It will be sent to the International Space Station (ISS) to help astronauts perform tasks. It is equipped with sensors, computers, cameras, and a propulsion system.
It can fly on the ISS, but on Earth, it is mounted on a sled that utilizes a stream of carbon dioxide to create low-friction air above a flat block of granite. This simulates microgravity in two dimensions.
Astrobee will be sent to the ISS this summer or next year. NASA built three units. Only two will be active at the same time.
Astrobee is 32 centimeters long. Two sides and the corners are covered with a soft bumper material. There’s a grab arm designed to hold handrails.
The older version of Astrobee was spherical. They required constant supervision and they were slightly flammable. The sphere bots were powered by disposable alkaline battery packs and tanks of carbon dioxide.
The lead systems engineer for the Astrobee Project describes the new design to IEEE Spectrum:
There are twelve nozzles, and they’re carefully arranged so that all of them are off-center. If you ever have one thruster that goes crazy, you’re going to wind up flying around in circles, not accelerating across the space station. But if you use a pair of thrusters, then you get a balance. There are different pairs that give you pure translation or pure rotation in each of the cartesian axes in both plus and minus directions, and that shows you that you can get any kind of directional thrust you want.
Source: IEEE Spectrum