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Adorable Drone Helps Document Experiments on the International Space Station

Cute as a button, the Int-Ball is taking over astronauts’ photographic duties

(JAXA/NASA)
smithsonian.com

To document their work onboard the International Space Station, astronauts take photos and videos of their experiments and send the footage back down to Earth. Though these records of their work are important, capturing every moment can be a time-consuming task. So to help alleviate the burden, the astronauts are getting some help from a drone. As Thuy Ong reports for the Verge, Japan’s space agency just released photos and videos of this new assistant—and it looks like it should be babbling alongside a Star Wars hero.

According to the Japan Times, the Internal Ball Camera (or Int-Ball), as the drone is called, is about the size of a grapefruit, measuring almost six inches across and weighing 2.2 pounds. It has big “eyes” that glow with blue lights, and it hovers next to astronauts like a loyal buddy. 

The Int-Ball was manufactured by 3D-printing and according to a press release from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), it is the first camera drone that can record video in space while being controlled from the ground.

Using sensors and an image-based navigation camera, the Int-Ball is able to move in any direction, the Japan Times reports. It records both still and moving images, which can be checked in real time by flight controllers and researchers at the JAXA Tsukuba Space Center.

One of the drone’s primary purposes is to free up astronauts’ time by taking over their photographic work; according to the JAXA press release, ISS crewmembers currently spend about 10 percent of their working hours snapping photos and recording videos of the station’s goings-on. The Int-Ball also lets experts on the ground observe activity on the ISS from the same vantage point as the crew, allowing researchers to get a good view of experiments.

The Int-Ball was delivered to the Japanese module “Kibo” on the ISS back in June, and the drone is currently undergoing initial verification. But JAXA already has big plans for its adorable creation. In the future, the agency told the Japan Times, the drone will be able to check supplies and troubleshoot problems on board, making it quite the helpful sidekick.

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a journalist based in New York City. Her work has appeared in New York magazine, Flavorwire, and Women in the World, a property of The New York Times.

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