A Russian Soyuz spacecraft docked with the International Space Station successfully late on Tuesday evening, after an initial attempt to do so didn’t end up working as planned on Saturday night. This second attempt went off without a hitch, however, and the capsule is now parked at a port on the Russian Zvezda module of the ISS. In the captain’s seat of the capsule, which is designed to carry human passengers, sat Skybot F-850, a humanoid robot built by Russia’s Roscosmos space agency.
The robot didn’t actually pilot the craft — it was on an automated trip with no humans aboard to take over manual control. This trip saw the Soyuz launched atop a new version of Russia’s Soyuz rocket, which it has used so far only to transfer cargo with uncrewed spacecraft. This mission was designed to test the updated rocket with a Soyuz without humans on board, in preparation of using the same model with crew on board starting next year.
The Skybot F-850 has a number of built-in sensors on board, and can measure things like G-forces exerted on passengers, as well as vibrations, temperature readings and more, to provide an accurate idea of what a human would experience were they the ones sitting in the vehicle’s passenger seats instead of the robot.
This is the first use of a robot in this capacity by Roscosmos, and Skybot will remain at the ISS for around two weeks before it heads back to Earth. In addition to sensing conditions during launch, Skybot has some functions similar to your average Alexa speaker — it can answer questions, have short conversations and tell a few jokes. The plan, however, is to develop Skybot and its successors into more capable functional companions that can do activities in environments that are inhospitable to humans — including perhaps in the vacuum of outer space.