AMS Spring 2023

Adorable Japanese Camera Drone with 3D Printed Parts Will Save Astronauts Time on the International Space Station

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There are 3D printed drones that can fly up into the air from underwater, 3D printed heat-resistant drones that could potentially withstand the punishing conditions inside a volcano, and NASA has even worked on 3D printing parts for future space drones. But today, everyone’s talking about a new Japanese space drone that has 3D printed components and is cute as a button – the round, floating JEM Internal Ball Camera, or the Int-Ball. Recently, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) published the first videos and images taken in space by the camera-equipped Int-Ball, which was delivered to the Japanese Kibo module on the International Space Station last month by a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft.

The JEM Internal Ball Camera

Full disclosure, this is without doubt the most adorable drone I have ever seen. The Int-Ball is roughly the size of a grapefruit, with a diameter of 15 cm and weighing 1 kg, and uses existing drone technology. The drone also has 3D printed inner and outer structures. It has a dozen small propellers that allow it to fly in any direction it wants, and both inertial and ultrasonic sensors, plus an image-based navigation camera, help the drone make accurate movements. The Int-Ball uses a high-resolution camera, located between its two blue “eyes,” to take still and moving images of life on board the ISS, which is its main purpose.

The Int-Ball, which is remotely controlled from the JAXA Tsukuba Space Center in Japan’s northern Kantō region, was sent to the ISS to capture pictures and video of the lives of the three astronauts on board, in order to free up their time. According to JAXA, about 10% of their working hours are spent photographing and filming the conditions of life on the ISS, and the experiments they’re currently working on. The little spherical drone will take over these duties for the astronauts.

The video that the Int-Ball takes is subtitled in Japanese, and is first checked in real-time by the JAXA team on Earth before it’s sent back to the ISS crew, which consists of Russian commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and US astronauts Jack Fischer and Peggy Whitson; by the time Whitson, who has the longest cumulative time spent in space of any US astronaut, returns to Earth this September, she will have spent a total of 635 days orbiting Earth.

The Int-Ball on the ISS with US astronauts Peggy Whitson (L) and Jack Fischer (C)

According to JAXA, one of its objectives with the Int-Ball, in addition to saving the ISS astronauts time, is to improve not only the cooperation between robots and humans on future space missions, but also between astronauts and researchers back on Earth, and to make the experiments on board the ISS more efficient, by “acquiring the capability to move anywhere at any time via autonomous flight and record images from any angle.”

JAXA said, “The effective cooperative work between in-space and on-the-ground [teams] will contribute to maximized results of ‘Kibo’ utilization experiments.”

The recently released video footage shows the cute 3D printed Int-Ball drone hovering in and moving around the Destiny laboratory on the ISS. The drone is currently undergoing testing, to ensure that all of its videos and images are recording information properly. Once the testing is completed, JAXA will be delivering an improved camera drone to the ISS in 2018, which will feature an automatic power-charging function so that the ISS astronauts will have to do zero of the recording work on board. One day, the drone could even be upgraded so it’s able to help diagnose problems on board the ISS and check the amount of supplies. Discuss in the 3D Printed Drone forum at 3DPB.com.

[Sources: Newsweek, Space.com, Japan Times / Images: JAXA, NASA]

 

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