The astronauts now have a camera drone — and it looks like a modern Weebo

Why it matters to you

Ground crews can now see what the ISS crew sees in real time and from any angle, tech that could influence future space exploration robots.

Camera drones offer a unique aerial perspective, but what if you are already 249 miles above the earth? The International Space Station now has a floating remote camera, the International Ball Camera or Int-Ball. The Int-Ball is the first camera that can record video in space while being controlled from the earth, according to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), who shared the first shots from the device on July 14.

JAXA estimates that the astronauts at the ISS spend about ten percent of their working hours taking pictures — the Int-Ball aims to help free up some of that time with a hands-free camera that can view the interior of the ISS from any angle. The spherical camera drone, which looks like it was torn from the pages of a science fiction novel, allows the ground crew to see what the on-board crew sees, which helps the two groups to work together on different experiments.

The camera doesn’t look like the drones used on earth — the spherical camera’s exterior is more reminiscent of Weebo from the Robin Williams movie Flubber than a quadcopter. Nevertheless, the system is actually based on existing technology, JAXA says. Unlike the earth-bound camera drones, the Int-Ball is designed to move around in zero gravity, with 12 different fans arranged on the inside to allow the robotic camera to move through space on more than one axis – it utilizes three, in fact.

Both the machine’s interior and exterior parts were created from 3D printing. The two eyes make it easy for on-board astronauts to see what the camera is looking at, since the lens is actually located between those two “eyes.”

The Int-Ball can move around the space station all on its own, while the ground crew at the JAXA Tsukuba Space Center can also direct the drone, as well as stopping and starting photos and video from the device. The images are sent to earth in real time before being sent back to the ISS crew.

The Int-Ball is currently going through the initial verification process aboard ISS, but JAXA says the spherical camera drone is expected to help enhance technology that could be used on future missions. One of the camera’s objectives is to give the ground crew the ability to move anywhere at any time to record data in the form of images and video.

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