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Russian humanoid robot Skybot F-850, or Fedor, being tested in July. Photo: AFP

Russia launches its first-ever humanoid robot into space

  • The silvery anthropomorphic robot is named ‘Fedor’, for Final Experimental Demonstration Object Research
  • It copies human movements, allowing it to remotely help astronauts carry out tasks while they are strapped into an exoskeleton
Russia launched an unmanned rocket on Thursday carrying a life-size humanoid robot which will spend 10 days learning to assist astronauts on the International Space Station.

Named Fedor, for Final Experimental Demonstration Object Research with identification number Skybot F850, the robot is the first ever sent up by Russia.

It blasted off in a Soyuz MS-14 spacecraft at 6:38am Moscow time from Russia’s Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The Soyuz is set to dock with the space station on Saturday and stay until September 7.

Soyuz ships are normally manned on such trips, but on Thursday no humans were travelling so that a new emergency rescue system could be tested.

Fedor will spend 10 days aboard the International Space Station. Photo: AFP

Instead of cosmonauts, Fedor was strapped into a specially adapted pilot’s seat, with a small Russian flag in his hand.

“Let’s go. Let’s go,” the robot was heard as ‘saying’ during launch, apparently repeating a phrase made famous by the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin.

The silvery anthropomorphic robot stands 1.8 metres tall and weighs 160 kilograms.

It has accounts associated with it on Instagram and Twitter that describe it as learning new skills such as opening a bottle of water. In the station, it will trial those manual skills in very low gravity.

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“That’s connecting and disconnecting electric cables, using standard items from a screwdriver and a spanner to a fire extinguisher,” the Russian space agency’s director for prospective programmes and science, Alexander Bloshenko, said in televised comments ahead of the launch.

“The first stage of in-flight experiments went according to the flight plan,” the robot’s account tweeted after reaching orbit.

Fedor copies human movements, a key skill that allows it to remotely help astronauts or even people on Earth carry out tasks while they are strapped into an exoskeleton.

A scientists tests out ‘Fedor’ as it copies his movements. Photo: AFP

Such robots will eventually carry out dangerous operations such as spacewalks, Bloshenko told RIA Novosti state news agency.

On the website of one of the state backers of the project, the Foundation of Advanced Research Projects, Fedor is described as potentially useful on Earth for working in high radiation environments and tricky rescue missions.

On board, the robot will perform tasks supervised by Russian cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov, who joined the ISS last month, and will wear an exoskeleton in a series of experiments expected to take place later this month.

Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: Xinhua
Space agency chief Dmitry Rogozin showed pictures of the robot to President Vladimir Putin this month, saying it will be “an assistant to the crew”.

“In the future we plan that this machine will also help us conquer deep space,” he added.

Fedor is not the first robot to go into space.

In 2011, Nasa sent up Robonaut 2, a humanoid robot developed with General Motors and a similar aim of working in high-risk environments.

It was flown back to Earth in 2018 after experiencing technical problems.

In 2013, Japan sent up a small robot called Kirobo along with the ISS’s first Japanese space commander. Developed with Toyota, it was able to hold conversations – albeit only in Japanese.
This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Russia sends robot on first mission to space station