Dubai: UAE students turned into “flight controllers” on Monday and were able to “command” a space drone camera on the International Space Station (ISS) under the supervision of the first Emirati astronaut Hazzaa AlMansoori.
Hazzaa’s third live video call on his fifth day in space went beyond the usual question-and-answer session.
Instead, it was an interactive educational mission from the Japanese segment of the ISS called KIBO (Japanese for Hope) to teach students how to make a command table to control the Int-Ball, the world’s first zero-gravity camera drone.
The Int-Ball, or short name for the Internal Ball Camera, is a 1-kg 3D printed ball that is 150mm in diameter. It has two glowing blue eyes, a camera inside and can be controlled from the ground in real time.
Before the session with Hazzaa, Shinobu Doi, Manager for KIBO Utilisation Centre from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) taught students how the Int-Ball works using the law of Action-Reaction, also known as the Newton’s third law of motion. It states that for every action (force), there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Doi said the aim of the Int-ball is to reduce the amount of time astronauts spend using a camera to manually photograph their work or equipment.
With the Int-ball, astronauts can spend more time on their experiments and less time taking photographs which the Int-ball can take for them through commands sent from the ground station in Jaxa.
In a recorded video, Hazzaa and back-up astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi taught the students at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) tent how to maneuovre the Int-ball.
By 12.24pm, Hazzaa began his live session and explained how the Int-ball works, which has gyroscopes inside to control its speed and brakes. Assisted by Nasa astronaut Nick Hague, Hazzaa said the ISS works the same way at an altitude of around 400km.
He said the ISS has four gyroscopes or devices that measure or maintain rotational motion, which are controlled by the flight controller so it can maintain its altitude and continue to orbit the Earth without hitting any space junks.
“Flight controllers” for a day
During the session, Hazzaa quizzed the students to choose a command that would make the Int-Ball move upward. The students chose command number four which was sent from Jaxa to space, in effect making the students ‘flight controllers’ for a day.
And true enough, as the command was executed, the Int-Ball moved upward showing Hazzaa on the camera, the image displayed on the screen. He then congratulated the students for a job well done and for proving that they learned something from the session.
For the Q&A, Emirati students based in Japan were invited to the Jaxa headquarters to ask Hazzaa their questions.
Mariam Al Suwaidi asked Hazzaa what kind of robot he would build for the ISS if given the chance.
Hazzaa replied: “A robot with four arms to help me (and astronauts) do different tasks on board the station.”
Another student, Mansoor Al Mansoori, asked how Hazzaa was able to know the orientation of the ISS, figuring out which was “up” and which was “down”.
Hazzaa admitted it was very difficult in the beginning. He said: “The first time I was on the ISS it was difficult for me to determine where was up and where was down. But the good thing is we have the deck. This is our reference. Everything is oriented upward. This is the same thing we simulate on ground during our training.”
Hazzaa ended the 21-minute live call waiving his hand with a smile, pleased with the students’ inputs.
Some of these students travelled all the way from Fujairah like Hoor Rashid and 30 of her schoolmates from the Al Itqan School. She told Gulf News: “I’m interested in space. Maybe in the future we can pursue it inshaallah. Living in space is interesting. And looking at the Earth from the ISS is exciting.”
From Al Muhaisnah in Dubai, Filipina 10th grader Ma. Erika Julia Alquiza from the United International Private School said she appreciated the opportunity to contribute from Dubai.
“Despite the fact that matters like space technology and exploration are often seen as serious topics for adults, the UAE and MBRSC specially tried to include the efforts of the youth such as myself in their activities and saw us not as children but as individuals who can give our fair share of contributions… by sending a command to the robot (Int-Ball) while interacting with Hazzaa,” she told Gulf News.
Hazzaa will hold one final live video call on Tuesday before his scheduled return to Earth on Thursday after eight days in space.