Steve Ormsby monitors the SPHERES experiment. (NASA/ARC)
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Chris Provencher and astronaut Kevin Ford set up and supervise the red Smart SPHERES' activity. (NASA/ARC)
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Chris Provencher and DW Wheeler provide SPHERES support. (NASA/ARC)
View large image On Dec. 12 engineers at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., and Johnson Space Center in Houston conducted an experiment using small, free-flying robotic satellites called "Smart SPHERES" aboard the International Space Station.
The Smart SPHERES, located in the Kibo laboratory module, were remotely operated from the International Space Station's Mission Control Center at Johnson to demonstrate how a free-flying robot can perform surveys for environmental monitoring, inspection and other routine housekeeping tasks.
In the future, small robots could regularly perform routine maintenance tasks allowing astronauts to spend more time working on science experiments. In the long run, free-flying robots like Smart SPHERES also could be used to inspect the exterior of the space station or future deep-space vehicles.
The SPHERES are basketball-sized free-flying satellites that have been on the space station since 2006 and were originally developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology through the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and NASA Small Business Innovation Research funding. Project engineers equipped the SPHERES with a Google Nexus S and software to transform them into Smart SPHERES: remotely operated robots equipped with cameras, accelerometers, wireless and high-performance embedded computing. The test fully completed all nine test objectives and met all success criteria.
This experiment is supported by the Human Exploration Telerobotics project Technology Demonstration Missions Program in the Space Technology Program of the Office of the Chief Technologist at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
For more information about Smart SPHERES, visit:
Watch a video of SPHERES aboard the International Space Station: