Spherical Robots Practice Formation Flying in Space

NASA has this experiment onboard the International Space Space to test the concept of robot flying in formation and performing other manuevers in space. 

The NASA website explains, “Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) are bowling-ball sized spherical satellites.  Three free-flying spheres can fly within the cabin of the Space Station, performing flight formations. Each satellite is self-contained with power, propulsion, computers and navigation equipment. The results are important for satellite servicing, vehicle assembly and formation flying spacecraft configurations.”

It would seem that these little robots could be great assistants for the astronauts.  They could hold cameras, carry tools, or they could provide lighting for work situations.  I don’t know if they are being considered for that work, but they should.  Read the stories at the links below for more information.


Photo Credit:  NASA

“MIT has had a set of robots called SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient Experimental Satellites) on board the International Space Station since May of 2006 to test out algorithms for autonomous navigation and docking maneuvers. Each sphere is about 8″ in diameter and has 18 sides. They gets around with 12 thrusters powered by compressed CO2, while ultrasonic and infrared sensors and a wireless link tell them where they are. SPHERES are able to maneuver precisely enough to dance around in a circle on the ISS; watch as a third robot enters the pattern:

The idea behind SPHERES is that a bunch of small satellites working together is much cheaper, much more efficient, and much more robust than one single large satellite. It’s swarm robotics, up in space.”  From BotJunkie

The following sites provided source materials for this article



MIT Spheres

Danger Room

Spherical Robots Dance In Space
Evan Ackerman
Thu, 21 Jan 2010 11:55:49 GMT

Robot Scouts May Assist Humans in the Exploration of the Moon

Robots have been the trailblazers in space exploration.  In particular, Ranger, Surveyor, and the Lunar Orbiters paved the way to the lunar landings in the Apollo Program.  Now, tests are planned to see if robot scouts can aid human explorers on future missions to the Moon.  What these current and future robots will do that sets them apart from the earlier machines is that they will work closely with the humans on the moon’s surface. 

During Apollo surface operations, the astronauts did recon and geological exploration at the same time.  In the return to the Moon around 2020, robots will be tasked to reconnaissance.  This should make the astronauts work more productive.  During the upcoming testing of the K10, researchers hope to show that robots can increase the science return of the human missions.  Check out the article at the link below for more information.

K10 Rover

Credit: NASA Image

K10 Rover during testing on Devon Island at the Haughton Mars Project Research Station in July 2007.  Robotic Recon experiment will investigate how robots can improve the productivity and science return of human missions. Why …

Robotic Reconnaissance May Improve Human Exploration of the Moon – SpaceRef
Thu, 11 Jun 2009 19:37:00 GMT