UAE astronaut Hazzaa AlMansoori shows how a gyroscopic smart camera works in space

AlMansoori held the Int-Ball in his hand before letting it afloat in microgravity


For hundreds of students who flocked to Dubai's Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) from different parts of the country on Monday afternoon to interact with the first Arab in the International Space Station (ISS), it was a great day of learning and insight. Some even travelled all the way from Ras Al Khaimah and from Ruwais - 240km west of Abu Dhabi - to keep their 11.30am appointment with Hazzaa AlMansoori - and all of them returned home inspired.

In the day's first live video call that began around 12.30pm from ISS's Japanese Experiment Module Kibo, the first Emirati in space successfully conducted the Int-Ball experiment, giving a live demo of how to use the gyroscopic smart camera in microgravity (see What is Int-Ball).

Designed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the Int-Ball is controlled and monitored by a team of JAXA ground controllers. For the first time, its reigns were handed over to the group of students gathered at the MBRSC via a live link between Tokyo, Dubai and the ISS.

In a session that lasted 22 minutes, AlMansoori held the Int-Ball in his hand before letting it afloat in microgravity and assigning the students to navigate it upward using one of the six commands, after explaining what each command meant.

At the end when the answer - command number 4 to navigate the Int Ball counter-clockwise along Y-axis - came out loud, clear and in unison, AlMansoori thanked the crowd, signing off with sayonara and ma'a salama, good bye in Japanese and Arabic respectively.

What is Int-Ball and how does it work?

The Int-Ball is an experimental smart ball camera that is autonomous and manoeuverable by commands. It has been deployed in the ISS inside the Japanese Kibo module since June 4, 2017, with an aim to offer astronauts a 'hands-free' experience of photo and video documentation aboard the station.

Weighing just 1kg and with a 15cm diameter, it is propelled by an array of 12 small electric fans mounted on the ball's outer surface. This makes it naturally float in the station's zero-gravity environment.

Just like a modern drone camera system, as we know it, Int-Ball's motion control system can rotate along any axis - (x marked with red, y marked with green and z marked with blue).

The six commands to manoeuvre Int-Ball

The options Hazza AlMansoori gave the UAE students when he asked them to help him navigate the Int-Ball upwards in their mission of the day:

1-X-axis - CW

2-X-axis - CCW

3-Y-axis - CW

4-Y-axis - CCW

5-Z-axis - CW

6-Z-axis - CCW

Answer - UAE chose option 4 i.e. move along the Y-axis counter clockwise

The Three questions Hazza was asked on Monday, September 30

Maryam Al Suwaidi: If you had a robot to support you on your daily tasks at the ISS, what would it be?

Hazzaa: I would like to have something similar to Int-ball but with four arms, that will help me carry more things.

Nour Al Hammadi: What are the various tasks robots do at the ISS?

Hazzaa: There are different robots aboard the ISS from different agencies like Nasa and European Space Agency (ESA). And, as I showed you today, there's one from JAXA. Each robot serves a different purpose. For example, the Astrobee system (that consists of three cube-shaped robots, software and a docking station used for recharging) scans the inventory while floating aboard the station and 'Simon' from ESA looks after the procedures that the astronauts have to complete on the station.

Mansoor Mansoori: How do you recognise 'up' or 'down' inside the ISS?

Hazzaa: It's a difficult question to answer because the first time I approached the ISS, I didn't know what up or down (really) was. But the deck or floor provides us our reference and everything along the walls is oriented upwards. We write down all the coordinates in an upward direction. This is the same thing that we've simulated on ground when we trained to be aboard the station. With that, we have a solid reference but in case we flip upside-down (he demonstrates upside down movement by cycling in microgravity), everything is upside down for me. This is my new point of reference.

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