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NASA Astrobee Robot work by NMSU MAE Students

NMSU engineers testing guidance and control techniques for NASA Astrobee robots onbaord the International Space Station

  • By Dr. Hyeongjun Park
  • 575-646-2024
  • Mar 01, 2023

Mechanical and Aerospace Engeering Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering researchers at New Mexico State University are developing and testing novel guidance and control techniques for cooperative cargo transport using NASA Astrobee robots onboard the International Space Station (ISS).

NASA’s Astrobee robots are free-flyers designed by NASA’s Ames Research Center that move freely in the micro-gravity environment of the ISS. Astrobees can assist astronauts by doing various tasks such as measuring the temperature, radiation levels, and air quality inside. They can also help astronauts with more advanced tasks, for example, transporting cargo from one section to another in the ISS.

NMSU engineers are participating in Stages 4 and 5 of the Astrobatics project conducted by NASA Ames and the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS), Monterey, CA. The Astrobatics project aims at developing and testing guidance and control techniques for the maneuvering of autonomous robotic spacecraft, specifically for spacecraft towing.

Dr. Hyeongjun Park, the NMSU Team Lead, says that, “In Stage 4, the NMSU team will develop and test guidance and control algorithms that will enable a single Astrobee to tow an object without precise knowledge of its mass and inertia. In Stage 5, we will test control techniques that will enable two Astrobees to cooperate to transport an object to a desired location inside the ISS. The objective of Stages 4 and 5 is to develop algorithms that will be used for future in-space assembly missions. To construct a huge structure in space, one or more spacecraft will transport parts of the structure to the construction site from a mothership. It is challenging to move various parts with different masses and inertias efficiently and safely.”


Currently, two NMSU MAE graduate students are working with NASA Ames and the NPS researchers to conduct the Stage 4 tests. Ph.D. student Isuru Basnayake explained, “We have developed and tested optimization-based robust guidance and control techniques to deal with the uncertain mass and inertia of an unknown object to be towed by the Astrobee robots. I am thrilled to implement our algorithms in space.” Master’s student John Martinez says, “I am grateful to have this great opportunity to work closely with the NASA and NPS teams, including actual astronauts on the ISS, for the future of spacecraft robotics.”

Dr. Park noted that, “The NASA Ames Intelligent Robotics Group has greatly supported the NMSU team to make this happen since the beginning of the project. Also, we appreciate the NPS team’s excellent work and the opportunity to collaborate with Dr. Marcello Romano (principal investigator) and Dr. Jennifer Hudson.”

The Stage 4 tests will be conducted at 6 am MT, Thursday, February 23, 2023. It will be broadcast on NASA TV ( Stage 5 is planned for Fall 2023.