Japanese space agency 3D prints floating space drone

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has released the first footage from its floating 3D printed space drone, the Int-Ball. The JEM Internal Ball Camera (Int-Ball) is currently floating aboard the ISS via controls back on earth at the JAXA Tsukuba Space Center.

According to JAXA, “its exterior and inner structures were all manufactured by 3D-printing.”

The circular drone uses existing drone technology and is enabled by a package known as the Miniaturized Attitude Control Sensors and Actuators in an All-in-one Module. The module was developed especially for space application, primarily satellites, and enables accurate control of the Int-Ball’s movement.

Gif shows the Int-Ball in action. Images via JAXA. 

The spherical space drone has twelve propellers that allow it to float to where it wants to go. The Int-Ball’s central camera enables the device to take images and videos of the ISS. JAXA believes it has potential for supply checking and providing an extra set of eyes during space missions.

The device is 15cm in diameter and arrived at the ISS on June 4 aboard the Japanese experimental module (JEM) – Kibo.

Autonomous float

Despite its adorable aesthetic, the Int-Ball has some very serious tasks as JAXA intends to reduce space crew’s work by 10%. According to the Japanese Space Agency, the floating camera is hoped to completely eliminate the space crew’s “photographing time.” JAXA also expects the Int-Ball will soon be able to operate autonomously and move anywhere by itself.

Perhaps in the future, the ISS could extend the Int-Ball’s functionalities with use of the Made in Space 3D printer aboard the space station. 3D printing has proven its worth for drone manufacturing many times in the past, however the Int-Ball is not quite as terrifying as some of the U.S military’s application.

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Featured image shows the Int-Ball floating aboard the ISS. Photo via Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).