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Autonomous EVA Robotic Camera (AERCam) Sprint

control station

Adequate views that allow Orbiter intravehicular activity (IVA) crews to observe extravehicular activities (EVAs), inspect a location without an EVA, or view locations not visible by an EVA crew member or remote manipulator system camera can be difficult if not impossible to obtain. The International Space Station (ISS) camera views are even more restricted due to the much larger structure to be viewed. A camera that has the capability to be positioned without major impact to the design of the Orbiter or ISS could prove to be extremely useful to obtain these views. The Autonomous Extravehicular Robotic Camera (AERCam) Sprint was developed and flight tested on a shuttle mission to demonstrate the feasibility and capability of such a system.

The Sprint is the first in a proposed series of autonomous AERCams. Future AERCams such as Mini AERCam will build on AERCam Sprint by adding additional capabilities and more autonomy.

AERCam Sprint Objectives:

  • Examine the utility of a free-flying camera in close proximity to a spacecraft and EVA crew.
  • Provide a basic set of required capabilities for a free-flying camera as a development version of a future operational vehicle that would be used on orbit by either the Orbiter or ISS.

This device can be used to directly support an EVA by giving IVA crew members the ability to freely move their eyepoint independent of cameras attached to the shuttle or the EVA crew. A production version of AERCam could be used for inspection either as a precursor to an EVA, to provide support during an EVA, or in lieu of an EVA.

The AERCam Sprint Free-Flyer:

  • Is a small, unobtrusive, free-flying camera platform for use outside a spacecraft.
  • Has a self-contained propulsion system, with the capability to be maneuvered insix degrees of freedom.
  • Has an automatic attitude hold capability.
  • Is a spherical vehicle that moves slowly (~0.25 fps) and is covered with a soft, cushioned material to prevent damage in the event of an impact.
  • Is controlled from inside the cabin via UHF radio link by an operator using a small control station.

Sprint was deployed (and retrieved) early in the morning of December 3, 1997 by Astronaut Winston Scott during STS-87's second EVA. For about an hour and fifteen minutes, the free-flying robot conducted a series of maneuvers and observations designed to evaluate the utility of mobile robotic cameras. The free flight occurred within the forward section of the orbiter's payload bay and up to 40 feet above it. Flown by pilot Steve Lindsey, the system demonstrated a new capability for on-orbit collection and transmission of video of Orbiter or ISS operations. Following recovery, Lindsey reported that the system "flew better than expected" and "deserved a Level 1" Cooper-Harper rating (the highest possible evaluation).


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