Japan’s floating space drone offers a window into the ISS

Int-Ball is short for Internal Ball Camera, and it was developed by Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

The International Space Station isn’t thought of as a volley ball court or other sport played with a ball, but there is now a ball rolling around the ISS only this one take images and movies. The unit was delivered to the ISS aboard a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft on June 4th, and it’s now going through initial testing.

This is JAXA’s first outer space drone that can record video. It has also cut the amount of work done by Japanese astronauts on the ISS by about 10 percent, photographing work and equipment for evaluation that otherwise would have to be done manually. The drone can be controlled from Earth by the JAXA Tsukuba Space Center.

Another Int-Ball objective is enabling researchers and flight controllers on the ground to visually assess the crew’s work in space from the same viewpoint, allowing for better cooperation between space and ground teams in what JAXA calls an “effective cooperative” effort.

The Int-Ball, which integrates elements from drone technology such as miniaturized attitude control sensors and actuators, is now undergoing its initial verification process aboard the ISS.

Int-Ball was delivered to the ISS by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and a reusable Dragon cargo capsule back on June 4th, 2017, and Int-Ball now spends its time inside the Japanese “Kibo” science experiment module. The device can move virtually anywhere inside the module, and record images from any angle. The Int-Ball’s central camera enables the device to take images and videos of the ISS.

In the footage released by JAXA, viewers can see images of the interior of the ISS captured by the Int-Ball 3D printed bot.