Based on the NASA Sphere program this project aims to provide a new way of transporting goods across large space stations, perform automated tasks and assist astronauts in zero gravity. Using the Spheres docking capabilities the new system utilises one or a swarm of drones in combination with boxes, nets or a robotic arm.Future development includes a drone which helps in emergencies, does repair and enables swarm communication between several drones.

This project is solving the ZERO GEE Bee – Your Friendly Neighborhood Drone challenge.




In the future there will be bigger space stations and space ships for travels to outer space, which increases the amount of repetitive and monotone tasks that has to be performed aboard the space ship, like repairs, maintenance and transportation of goods. There is even a risk these tasks will transform an astronaut from explorer and researcher to facility manger and transporter of goods in space. To avoid this shift we have looked into ways to use drones as facilitators in the space stations.


*As a part of our project we analysed several options and scenarios and narrowed them down to the following questions:

*How can the drone make the life of an astronaut easier?

*Could the drone do more, with less astronaut interaction?

*How can it resolve the time-consuming task of transporting objects across larger space stations in zero gravity?


We decided to build our project on the existing drone platform Sphere. Inspired by the movie 'Star Wars', a MIT professor challenged his students to make a copy of the lightsaber training drone. Shaped like a hexagonal sphere, the Shpere is as big as a volleyball (around 25cm in diameter) and weighs as much as a light bowling ball (around 4kg on earth).Over the last 7 years they were used over 200 hours as experiments on the ISS. One drone can communicate via Wifi and serial radio link with the laptop of an astronaut or with other drones. The drones are able to fly in constellation and dock to each other. It can be both preprogrammed and controlled manually.

We propose further development of the software to synchronize the spheres with each other and make it possbile for them to perform autonomous tasks. We also propopse a payload module that makes it possible to dock to the existing sphere to a payload. This is the initial point where 'Companions In Space' engages.

Transporting objects across space stations:

The astronaut and Sphere weighs and measures the object that should be transported and chooses appropriate modules according to the different payloads they carry. Using the Spheres docking capabilities the new system utilises one or a swarm of drones in combination with boxes, nets or a robotic arm. To avoid and compensate for rotation and consequences of zero gravity and bulky payload the Spheres will also act as a counter force by communicating with each other. The number of drones participating in a transport therefore depends on the shape, volume and mass of the payload.

Automized tasks

A combination of pre-programmed maintenance and surveillance tasks, such as sensoring and monitoring can be automated and dedicated to one or several Spheres to perform on regular cycles.


The Spheres can do a first investigation of the emergency scene and surveil initial repair actions.

Swarm intelligence

A further development of the software will to make the Spheres connect and communicate with each other. This robotic swarm intelligence where they share knowledge between each other. To for example move a heavy object in the most efficient way, between four drones. Where the spheres take on different tasks either through a master-slave relation or cluster communication.

Future use and implementation

The capability of using the drones to communicate with each other and making an autonoumous unit can be used in several scenarios

Future development for terrestial applications can include a drone which helps in emergencies or does repairs. To become a real Companion In Space and on Earth drones can also have certain pre-programmed and automated tasks it will perform collectively or individually.

Thinking about the design of new space stations, one has to anticipate the increasing traffic. A recommendation would be a dedicated transportation channel - the autobahn on ISS.

Project Information

License: MIT license (MIT)

Source Code/Project URL:




  • Karin Nilsdotter
  • Holger Niessner
  • Simon Karlsson
  • James Omoya
  • jennifer rainsford
  • Pouyan Azari