MOSCOW – Russia’s space agency is set to increase its research into cosmonaut interaction and communication with humanoid robots during spacewalks, an official said Tuesday.
Humanoid robots are being designed and developed to ensure the safety of future extravehicular activity outside the International Space Station (ISS).
Dmitri Rogozin, general director of Roscosmos, said his agency’s decision was “to step up research into the cooperation between a cosmonaut and remotely operated humanoid robots,” and added it was necessary to guarantee “operational safety outside the ISS.”
This decision was taken after Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kononeko and Sergei Prokopyev performed on Dec. 12 an epic 7 hour, 45-minute spacewalk outside the ISS to examine a hole in the Soyuz MS-09 fuselage which required opening the Russian spaceship’s meteorite shield in lower earth orbit, a first in the history of world cosmonautics.
Russia described it as one of the “most complex” spacewalks ever attempted.
As the Soyuz is not designed to support spacewalks, Kononeko had to clamber over to the Russian space module with the assistance of a robotic arm controlled from inside the ISS by his fellow cosmonaut Prokopyev.
After examining the hull of the Russian’s transfer vehicle and taking photographs, he then applied a thermal patch on the spot where the hole was found, therefore restoring the ISS’ hermetic seal which had been jeopardized by the unexpected puncture.
Kononeko also had to use a cutter and scissors to slice a section of the hull’s anti-meteorite lining to take a sample back to Earth for tests, which the cosmonauts did on their return to Earth on Dec. 20.
Russia’s Tass agency reported on Feb. 8 that a group of six research cosmonauts had performed an experiment to remotely operate a humanoid robot on board the ISS from the Gagarin Research and Test Cosmonaut Center in the outskirts of Moscow.
The robot repeated the operator’s actions in the experiment.
The cosmonaut center noted after the test that Roscosmos’ research cosmonaut Sergei Kud-Sverchkov fixed the safety tether spring hook to an ISS handrail for operation in open space with the robot’s help in under 12 minutes.
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The European Space Agency (ESA) continues experimenting with Justin, (or Rollin’ Justin), a 45 kilogram (100 pounds), two-armed autonomous humanoid robot, developed by the German Aerospace Center (DLR).
NASA also tested its General Motor’s dexterous Robonaut 2 (R2) on board the ISS, delivered by Space shuttle STS-133 back in Feb. 2011, but its design did not allow for spacewalks unless a major redesign was undertaken.
It was duly returned to Earth and is now awaiting a return to active service sometime in the future.