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NASA's second free-flying assistant robot gets to work

Darrell Etherington

The International Space Station is crewed by more than astronauts these days – NASA activated a free-floating autonomous robot called 'Bumble' earlier this year, and now Bumble has a new companion called Honey. Both are Astrobee robots, cube-like "robotic teammates" for ISS astronauts, which ar designed to help with experiments, day-to-day activities and more.

These two robots are alike in all regards, though Honey features yellow accents while Bumble has blue fo the sake of visual identification. Honey will still need to undergo testing before it's fully ready to start its work in earnest, but it's going to benefit from its similarity to Bumble – the earlier robot has already mapped the interior of the Space Station's Kibo module, which means that Honey won't be starting from scratch since it's received that mapping data via a software update.

This robotic duo will soon become a trio, since a third Astrobee called 'Queen' was delivered to the ISS in July and will go online after Honey is up and running. This is hardly the only example of space-based autonomous robotics in use, but it is an interesting example because these robots are designed to work alongside human astronauts and share their space while operating on their own, untethered in a zero gravity environment.

Eventually, NASA hopes that robots like these will be able to not only make astronauts more efficient in their work by providing additional assistance and managing a portion of their current workload, but also be entrusted with the maintenance of spacecraft and stations when there's no one on board at all. Astrobee, and its eventual successors, could be the key to establishing more permanent human presences in orbit around the Moon and beyond.