After a failed docking attempt, Russia delivers a humanoid robot to the space station

A new Russian humanoid robot arrived in the International Space Station on 26 August. It was the only crew member of a Soyuz rocket to orbit from Kazakhstan on August 22. The mission called for the Soyuz to be driven without human crew to test new upgrades and software and to deliver this Android to the ISS.


Reaching the station was a bit of a test for the robot. The Soyuz spacecraft was originally scheduled to dock at ISS on August 24, but the encounter was aborted when the vehicle unexpectedly started moving as it approached the station. The Russian state space company Roscosmos discovered that there was a problem with the port with which the Soyuz tried to dock: one of the components on the station's automatic docking system didn't work well, and it messed up things for the spacecraft.

Skybot on earth.
Image: Roscosmos

The Soyuz followed the ISS over the weekend, while the station crew maneuvered at the last minute. On 25 August, three of the six crew members loaded onto the ISS in one of the two Soyuz spacecraft that had already docked at the space station and brought it to the glitching docking port. The crew placed themselves in the port by hand, because the defective component only prevented automatic docking. This released another gate with a fully working automatic docking system, so that the unscrewed Soyuz could finally meet the space station independently. Now a total of three Soyuz spacecraft are linked to the ISS.

Roscosmos wanted to do this rare Soyuz mission without crew, because the company is eliminating the type of rocket that future crews will launch into space. Soon crews will be on their way to the ISS on the new Soyuz 2.1a rocket, not on the Soyuz FG rocket that astronauts and cosmonauts have been riding since 2002. Before people fly on the new vehicle, Roscosmos decided to steer the rocket during a flight to test a few capsule upgrades and see if certain software systems on both the spacecraft and the rocket were properly connected.

Now Russia's robot crew member – called Skybot F850 – will be released on the space station. The bot, reminiscent of the early Terminator, is useful as a human and is even capable of performing complex tasks such as driving a car and shooting guns. Fortunately Skybot does not do that on the ISS. The cosmonauts on board the ISS will only spend two weeks flounder, perform tests and evaluate its ability to perform certain tasks in space. It will then be loaded back into the Soyuz capsule that it came on and return to Earth early September.

Skybot is somewhat reminiscent of another humanoid spacecraft robot that sent NASA to the Robonaut 2 space station. Complete with an upper body, arms and a helmet, Robonaut 2 flew to the station for the first time in 2011. A pair of legs was sent for the robot in 2014. During his stay, the bot performed various administrative tasks at the station, but eventually stopped he with good startup and was sent back to earth for repairs in May 2018. Robonaut 2 returns to the station not long after Skybot leaves. No matter how wonderful it would be to make human-like astronauts meet, we will all just have to wait for a robot appointment in space.

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