The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has begun testing a spherical drone about the size of a grapefruit in Japan’s Kibo science module at the International Space Station. The new crew member is an adorable robotic ball capable of recording video while moving in zero gravity. Dubbed “Int-Ball,” the device will free astronauts to do more important work, while providing ground controllers with their own set of eyes.
Manufactured by 3D-printing, the Int-Ball is a robotic camera drone produced by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. Resembling a droid from the Star Wars movie series, the curious looking sphere can move autonomously in space. If the drone works out as planned, it could reduce or eliminate the time astronauts spend taking pictures, an activity that takes up about 10 percent of their working hours right now.
Like a terrestrial drone, the ball can operate in three dimensions, filming whatever it sees. Unlike a drone operating in Earth’s atmosphere, Int-Ball doesn’t have to fight gravity. As such, you won’t see (or hear) an array of propellers. Instead, Int-Ball uses what JAXA describes as “Miniaturized Attitude Control Sensors and Actuators in an All-in-one Module,” a tiny 4-inch square device that acts as an attitude stabilizer for the drone. JAXA’s goal is to eventually get this device down to about 33 millimeters. The Int-Ball weighs 1kg, has a diameter of 15cm.
Videos show Int-Ball, under the watchful eye of NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, moving near the walls, taking pictures of experiments and other regions in its vicinity. One shot shows a laptop lazily floating by. In another clip, Peggy Whitson’s fellow NASA astronaut Jack Fischer playfully hides behind a camera, taking pictures of the drone.