Since arriving in 2006, NASA’s SPHERES robots have roamed the International Space Station (ISS) assisting in microgravity research by serving as engineering and robotic testbeds. Now it is time for an upgrade. As NASA prepares to launch SPHERES’ successor, a free-flying cube-shaped robot known as Astrobee, it is crowdsourcing design concepts for one of new machine’s more noteworthy features, a robotic arm to be used for perching and interacting with objects.
Set to launch next year, Astrobee is a compact, cubed robot measuring one foot (30.5 cm) along each side. NASA imagines that it will build on the value of the SPHERES(Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Re-orient, Experimental Satellites) robots largely due to a greater degree of autonomy. With the ability to carry out research and monitoring duties without supervision, the agency says it will open up new opportunities to test emerging technologies in microgravity, while also reducing the risks to astronauts.