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NASA Now Testing 'Bumble' Robot Assistant On-Board Space Station

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NASA astronaut Anne McClain performing a series of tests on Bumble, one of the three Astrobee robots. Bumble and its companion Honey arrived at the International Space Station last month. The free-flying robots were designed to assist the crew in day-to-day tasks.   ( NASA )

NASA has recently completed the first hardware checkout of Bumble, one of the three Astrobees onboard the International Space Station.

A photo released on Friday, May 17, shows astronaut Anne McClain performing a series of tests on the cube-shaped robots in microgravity. The photo also shows a docking station installed in the Kibo module of the orbiting laboratory.

McClain worked with Astrobees team at NASA's Ames Research Center in California to verify the robot's subsystems, including avionics, cameras, propulsion, and docking for power and data transfer.

Astrobee Robots To Assist ISS Crew

Bumble arrived at the ISS last month. It was launched onboard the uncrewed Cygnus spacecraft as part of Northrop Grumman's 11th commercial resupply mission for NASA.

Astrobee free-flying robotic system is designed to help the crew of the ISS to complete tasks such as taking inventory, documenting experiments, and moving cargo. Their goal is to reduce the time that astronauts spend on routine duties so they can focus on other tasks that only humans can do.

The Astrobee robotic system is composed of three cube-shaped robots: Bumble, Honey, and Queen. Honey was also launched onboard the Cygnus spacecraft last month.

The robots use electric fans to propel themselves across the space station. They also have cameras and sensors that helps them "see" their surroundings and perching arms to hold items.

The ISS helpers can also return to their docking stations on their own and recharge their batteries.

In addition, the Astrobee robotic system serves as a "research platform" to help astronauts carry out experiments in microgravity. The trio of robots will take over the job of SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellite), which has been onboard the orbiting laboratory for more than a decade.

Space-Bound Robots

NASA said that Bumble, Honey, and Queen will help scientists assess how robots can assist astronauts perform caretaking duties on a spacecraft. The space agency added that robots will play a significant role in future missions, including the United States' planned return to the Moon and, eventually, the long journey to Mars.

It will, however, take a bit more time before the free-flying robotic system is ready to work. More tests will still be conducted in the following months. Bumble is expected to take flight by spring.

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