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Is the Cosmobot doing the Illuminati hand sign?  (Source: Ria Novosti)
Russian robot will take over dangerous spacewalk duties at the International Space Station

The International Space Station, a low-Earth orbit (LEO) habited orbiting space-base, continues to be a hotbed of research activity.  Funded through 2020 and expected to potentially operate through at least 2028, the station is mankind's ninth inhabited space station to date and is the largest artificial object in Earth orbit.  Built with the launch of the Expedition 1 module in 2000, the ISS has been continuously inhabited ever since.

I. A New Spacebot

But mankind's most expensive research project requires regular maintenance of a dangerous variety to stay operational.  To deal with shifting solar conditions, hardware malfunctions, and occasional damage form space debris, ISS residents have to embark on occasional spacewalks to tweak the station's external machinery.

Soon, they will be getting a helping hand -- but not of the human variety.  Russia is preparing to deploy its first humanoid space robot, the "Cosmobot SAR-401".

The SAR-401 "Cosmobot" [Image Source: Ria Novosti] 

A launch date for the Russian robot has not been announced, but the design was recently shown off in a test demonstration at the Yury Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Moscow Region’s Star City.  While the demo was impressive, the Cosmobot's creator, a company called Android Technics, cautions that the design is not yet finished.  They state to Russian state-owned news agency RT:

The work isn’t yet completed, so it’s currently impossible to evaluate the whole program.  [Once finished], in general, its work will be replacement of equipment, checking and maintenance [of the station].  A robot can never become a full substitute for a man. It’s interaction, not replacement we’re talking about.

Android Technics is building the Russian robot on behalf of The Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and plans to field it sometime in late 2014 or early 2015.

Cosmobot borrows liberally from The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) "Robonaut 2", a humanoid robot co-designed by General Motors Comp. (GM).  Robonaut 2 is scheduled to get a new pair of legs and a fresh battery backpack, which will transform him from a mere torso into a walking 8-foot-tall Android that can operate for longer periods between charges.

Robonaut 2
Robonaut 2 [Image Source: NASA]

The Cosmobot SAR-401 replaces the SAR-400, an earlier prototype that Russia kept behind closed doors, leading to some fears that it might not actually exist.  The SAR-401 also shares the "Cosmobot" monitor with AnthroTronix, Inc.'s diminuitive terrestrial robot, which helps children with disabilities.

Android Technics brags that the Russian robot will be "a lot cheaper" than the American Robonaut 2.

II. New Robot Gets Ready to do Its Spacewalk

Many at NASA and partner space agencies are eager to get robots to perform spacewalks.  Astronaut Cady Coleman told ABC News in an interview earlier this month:

There is no question in my mind that bringing robots outside and having them do spacewalks would be a great use of robots in space. A spacewalk takes a lot of consumables, we breathe, we have to check out the spacesuits.  We have to be triple sure that everything is right because we don't want to lose anyone on a spacewalk.

But Robonaut 2 will need more upgrades before it can operate outdoors.  Currently its electronics are only designed to operate within the shielded confines of the space station.  And that's where the cosmobot adds an important twist.

Cosmobot waving
Cosmobot will be capable of servicing the Russian Segment of the station. [Image Source: Ria Novosti]

The Cosmbot SAR-401 is designed to be able to operate in the vacuum and perform approximately 90 percent of the spacewalk duties that are currently performed by humans.  During these operations it will offer remote spacewalk capabilities to the station's residents, moving its limbs under the control of the astronauts with some help from onboard artificial intelligence, which makes the motions smoother and more precise.

Cosmobot mimicks
The robot will be capable of doing 90 percent of current manned spacewalk maintenance, and will be launched sometime in the next few years. [Image Source: Ria Novosti]

Current robotic maintenance tools are mounted on the CanadaArm2 remote-controlled maintenance arm, which is essentially a bigger, more flexible, more powerful version of the Canadarm used to deploy satellites from the now-mothballed Space Shuttle fleet.  Both the Canadarm and Canadarm2 were designed and built by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) as the name implies.  Currently Canadarm2 has a cruder robotic Torso, "Dextre" (also known as "Canada Hand").

Launched in March 2008, the robot has taken over most maintenance duties.  However, it can only work on the American side of the station, as it is unable to reach the Russian segment.  Hence repairs and adjustments to the Russian segment are still done the old-fashioned way -- with human spacewalks.

The Cosmobot will be mounted to the European Robotic Arm, a second external manipulator that is expected to be added to the outside of the Russian Segment of the ISS in 2014.

ERA Space Arm
The European Space Arm will be a lighter companion to the Canadarm2. [Image Source: ESA]

The new arm is being built by the The European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company N.V. (EADS) (EPA:EAD) subsidiary Dutch Space on behalf of the European Space Agency (ESA).
ERA schematic
ERA render
[Image Source: ESA]

The European Robotic Arm will be less bulky that the hulking Canadarm2.  This is because Russian and European spacecraft (including the heavily used Russian Soyuz capsules) dock automatically.  By contrast, the Canadarm2 was designed to assist manual docking of the shuttle and supply craft, hence it needed to be larger and more complex.

(SpaceX fans should note that the DragonX supply capsule docks using the Canadarm2.)

ESA Space Arm render
An artist's rendering of the European Robotic Arm post-deployment [Image Source: ESA]

There is also a third robotic arm -- the Japanese Experiment Module Remote Manipulator System (JEM-RMS).  But that arm is more of a test arm, not suitable for heavy external maintenance.

A key design decision that Android Technics is still sorting out is whether to house Cosmobot in an external temperature controlled bubble outside the space station, when not in use, or to simply keep it inside.  The latter solution offers less engineering challenges, but would increase the maintenance burdern on the station crew, whereas the more complex exterior solution would be desirable in that it would require the least human intervention to deploy on a spacewalk.

III. Other Notes

NASA is still playing with the idea of making Robonaut (or Robonaut 2) spaceworthy via modifications and a similar mounting scheme.

Robonaut on CanadaArm2
An artist's depiction of a potential future modified Robonaut mounted to the station's Canadarm2. [Image Source: John Frassanito & Assoc. for NASA]

While Robonaut 2 and Cosmobot are hulking androids, they share the station with a much more pint-sized robotic companion, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) "Kirobo".  Kirobo and its Earth-stationed backup "Mirata" were designed by the University of Tokyo.  They're equipped with facial recognition, natural speech recognition, speech generation, and advanced artificial intelligence, making them much more sociable crew members than Robonaut or Cosmobot.

Russia has a rich tradition of borrowing from the U.S. space program with "clone" designs.  Its most (in)famous clone was the Cold War era Buran space plane, a clone of the Space Shuttle.  Designed by OAO S.P. Korolyov Rocket and Space Corporation Energia (RSC Energia) the Buran space plane was impressive in its own right, capable of full automated takeoffs and landings. 

The Russian Space Shuttle clone, Buran [Image Source: Roscosmos]

It completed a single successful space flight in 1988.  More flights were intended to follow, but with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the program was cancelled.  Four other space planes were also partially constructed, with Ptichka being the closest to completion.  

Buran vs. Shuttle   Buran v. Shuttle
Buran (right, each image) versus the U.S. Space Shuttle (left, each image)
[Image Source: Unknown (left), Aircraft Wiki (right)]

Today Ptichka is the flagbearer of the Russian space plane legacy, as Buran was sadly destroyed when the roof of the building it was stored in collapsed in 2002.  Today Buran's surviving sister space plane is owned by Kazakhstan and is housed in MIK building at Baikonur Cosmodrome (the spaceport from which the original Buran launch occurred).

Sources: RT [press coverage (English)], [video (Russian)]

Comments     Threshold

This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

By Spookster on 12/3/2013 6:24:15 PM , Rating: 5
American robots, Russian robots, ALL MADE IN TAWAIN!

RE: Robots.
By Rob94hawk on 12/3/2013 7:25:52 PM , Rating: 2
LOL! Obviously nobody else got the movie quote.

RE: Robots.
By Monkey's Uncle on 12/4/2013 10:36:46 AM , Rating: 5
We would have if he spelled TAIWAN right ...

RE: Robots.
By StevoLincolnite on 12/4/2013 6:21:12 AM , Rating: 2

RE: Robots.
By SSDDRR on 12/4/2013 3:16:41 PM , Rating: 2
Besides, those "clone" labeling is tabloidish nonsense.

It is obvious that the robot is different, nothing to do with cloning.

It is like saying USA's space-suits were clones of USSR's space-suits.

Buran vs. Shuttle
By Nexos on 12/4/2013 8:45:16 AM , Rating: 4
This whole Buran being a clone of the Shuttle thing is a bit of a pet peeve of mine. While the outward appearance of both spaceplanes/launchers is very similar, the internal construction was quite different. The Energia launcher in particular has very little in common with its US counterpart and was in many ways superior: it used no solid fueled boosters, was capable of carrying other loads besides the shuttle as shown by the (failed) Polyus launch and it was designed to launch payloads beyond low earth orbit, as far as the moon theoretically, although this capability was never tested.

According to a US intelligence expert Buran was based on a rejected early design for the shuttle, at which point the two designs diverge and soviet engineers had to find their own solutions to the myriad of technical hurdles necessary for a reusable space plane. Since both shuttles were designed to fulfill similar roles and the laws of physics are the same in Russia as in the US, they have some things in common by necessity (convergent evolution). Such similarities in design are quite common in other vehicles as well. For example: Locheed L-1011 / Douglas DC-10; F-111 / F-14 / Su-24 / mig-24 / Mirage G; B-1 / Tu-160 etc.
If the same rules apply to space robots (How cool is that?! Freaking space robots!) its no surprise they all look and perform much the same.

tl;dr : two similar solutions emerging (independently) for the same problem does not necessarily constitute stealing/cloning

RE: Buran vs. Shuttle
By Divide Overflow on 12/4/2013 11:33:17 AM , Rating: 2
"Clone" is perhaps a bad choice of words on the authors part. Copy is definitely applicable though. It's not a perfect copy, but much of the design was stolen from the US space shuttle program.

Two solutions emerging from the same plan DOES constitute stealing.

RE: Buran vs. Shuttle
By jeffkro on 12/4/2013 4:22:30 PM , Rating: 2
Copyright laws don't apple to enemies. :) Why re-invent the wheel? The F15 stole a lot of design features from the mig 25.

RE: Buran vs. Shuttle
By mellomonk on 12/4/2013 12:00:38 PM , Rating: 3
Independent solution? Hardly. I am staring at the now freely available technical drawings of both Buran and Shuttle and it is amazing to see the level of commonality. It is at least 70% 'inspired'. Your intelligence expert's comments must have been made before the technical data was widely distributed. Even the internal numbers and dimensions in the various spars and stringers is nearly identical in places. Placement of the various life support components, electronics bays, even the bay door hinging and opening equipment. The rear of the fuselage is unique as the Buran did not have the large SSME and structure to support them. Convergent evolution can explain the overall look of the vehicle, but the nearly identical measurements and structure in places is a bit of a mystery given the different capacities and capabilities of the boosters. Sure Soviet and Western sources built similar aerospace designs such as the various 'swing wing' solutions, but never to such similar dimensions and layouts. It is incredibly obvious that the Soviet designers took liberally from 'what worked' and added their own twists to suite their needs. It was pretty smart when you think about it. They were cash strapped in the 80s and put their engineering resources into the portions that they felt they had a better solution such as the Energia booster.The Energia/Buran system had incredible potential with unique abilities. A unique and sad final song of the once mighty Soviet Space Program.

RE: Buran vs. Shuttle
By Nexos on 12/4/2013 12:39:22 PM , Rating: 2
I was not aware of the levels of similarity in the internals of the two shuttles, that puts things in a somewhat different light. If you have any links I would love to have a look at the drawings you mention.

I still think that calling it a clone or copy outright is an exaggeration though. Enough original thought went into that design that it deserves to be called something better. Based on or inspired by sound more appropriate.

The cancellation of the Energia launcher is the real shame though. A launcher of that size would have come in handy for something like Cassini/Huygens or during the ISS construction.

Media Spin
By JonnyDough on 12/4/2013 5:15:48 AM , Rating: 2
The media has a way of spinning terms. I guess anything can be a called a robot that has moving parts. Seems to me it's a complex joystick that moves an arm outside the ship.

Another example of this is the Air Force's Remotely Piloted Aircraft such as the MQ-9 Reaper and the Predator being called drones. They aren't drones at all. They aren't autonomous vehicles, they're remotely piloted. I guess it just annoys me when things are given names to make more of a headlining sensation.

RE: Media Spin
By marvdmartian on 12/4/2013 7:28:37 AM , Rating: 2
Sometimes, it's to make it easier for the average person to relate to it. Let's face's much easier to say drone, than it is the say "remotely piloted aircraft", right?

RE: Media Spin
By jRaskell on 12/4/2013 10:31:42 AM , Rating: 2
Where is the official definition of the word drone that explicitly restricts it to autonomous operation?

that's a rhetorical question, because there isn't one.

Drones can be autonomous or remotely operated.

RE: Media Spin
By Murloc on 12/4/2013 1:49:30 PM , Rating: 2
Drone = male bee

so it's perfectly fitting

Why not rails?
By DennisB on 12/3/2013 4:34:40 PM , Rating: 2
Huh, I thought the Robonaut arms where designed by german Bodenseewerke according to Da vinci's design sketches.

I wonder why not use simple rails to give the robots access to various parts of the station?

By Flunk on 12/3/2013 4:36:40 PM , Rating: 2
It's actually called the Canadarm2 not "CanadaArm2"

By wwwcd on 12/3/2013 8:29:47 PM , Rating: 2
WoW This is not autonomous robot. This is teletype(remote-controlled "robots"). This kind(*electrical) is made of many decades ago. Close to full century. This is just doll..."dummy". Clear mecanical versions we people have placed few senturies in past. In mits non electrical autonomous robots and mecanical controlled teletyps exist in antiquity.

By CharonPDX on 12/4/2013 4:39:26 AM , Rating: 2
Saying nothing about the technology itself vs. the American "Robonaut", I must say that "Cosmobot" is a much better name.


What's the point...
By Monkey's Uncle on 12/4/2013 10:39:50 AM , Rating: 2
... of going to the ISS if you aren't going to put on the big suit and have a little wander around the neighborhood?

Robots take all the fun out of it.

"If you look at the last five years, if you look at what major innovations have occurred in computing technology, every single one of them came from AMD. Not a single innovation came from Intel." -- AMD CEO Hector Ruiz in 2007

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