Adorable, Miniature Drone Joins the International Space Station Crew

By Carl Engelking | July 18, 2017 12:52 pm

Say hello to JAXA’s Int-Ball. (Credit: JAXA)

An adorable documentarian has joined the International Space Station crew.

The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) recently shipped its spherical camera drone to the ISS—thank you, SpaceX—to serve as another set of eyes and ears for ground control. It’s called the JEM Internal Ball Camera, but everyone’s referring to the little feller as “Int-Ball.” Last week, JAXA released the first images of Int-Ball on the job.

The ISS crew spends a lot of time in front of cameras; in fact, JAXA estimates that photography consumes 10 percent of ISS crew members’ working hours. Int-Ball’s mission is to cut photo-taking and filming time down to zero, leaving the crew to focus on other important tasks. To do this, Int-Ball can autonomously float to and fro in zero gravity, and ground-based crew members at the JAXA Tsukuba Space Center can remotely take control of the drone and gather photos and video.

Int-Ball is tiny, and it can easily float over an astronaut’s shoulder, granting ground control the same viewpoint. JAXA hopes that Int-Ball’s maneuverability will make ground-to-space collaboration easier. Int-Ball was constructed with JAXA’s “all-in-one” miniaturized attitude control sensors and actuators. To get around, internal reaction wheels located on three axes spin at a high rate of speed. Then, magnetic brakes bring the wheel to a halt, generating inertial force. Internal accelerators and gyroscopes control how fast each wheel spins and when the brakes are applied.

(Credit: JAXA)

(Credit: JAXA)

JAXA says the same technology could be used for small satellites, drone flight stabilizers or modular robotic systems. Given Int-Ball’s anthropomorphic features, it wouldn’t be surprising if the ISS crew comes up with a more affectionate moniker for the device as it spends more time with the team.

Astronauts Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer keep busy while Int-Ball watches. (Credit: JAXA/NASA)

Astronauts Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer keep busy while Int-Ball watches. (Credit: JAXA/NASA)

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: space exploration
  • Uncle Al


  • Erik Bosma

    Wonder how cute that robot would be if it had a laser or two installed.

  • Dennis Kilo Delta Arends

    yeah, so how does it know where it is inside the iss, if the gyros fix this drone in space, how does is not slam into the iss walls with 17,150 miles per hour…

    • OWilson

      I think you are talking about frames of reference, Foucault pendulum swings, absolute position, centrifugal force, Newton’s Bucket stuff.

      We don’t really understand these paradoxes, but Einstein and others, gave us the mathematics to explain how they act and make them work for us.

    • Erik Bosma

      Radar, sonics, etc…


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