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Soyuz TMA 7 spacecraft

Humanoid robot, Skybot F-850 to be the commander of a Soyuz spacecraft

The Russian Soyuz spacecraft will be carrying a humanoid robot as the commander of the capsule when it leaves for the International Space Station.

The robot named Skybot F-850 is one of the latest models of FEDOR robots from Russia that have been developed to serve as a stand-in for humans for tasks such as driving cars. And not only it is going to enter into space; for the first time, a robot will be in the position of commanding a spacecraft – Soyuz. It will be monitoring spacecraft conditions during the uncrewed flight as it leaves the atmosphere and enters the land of zero gravity.

The development of FEDOR robots started in 2014. This Skybot F-850 is made from materials which can withstand the operating conditions in space. To make sure that the ISS is not damaged in any way, its actions have been intentionally limited and is controlled by special movement algorithms. With the help of AI, Skybot can function independently or it can also be controlled by an operator wearing a control suit.

Its hands are meticulously designed for handling human tools. It can unlock a door, turn a valve and use a fire extinguisher. There are also videos of it, driving cars and even using automatic pistols which prompted Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister to make it clear that the robot does not serve as a weapon, but uses artificial intelligence in assisting humans in several other places. It is the first Russian robot on ISS but robots developed by NASA and ESA are in use on the space station for a long time.

Robonaut 2, a NASA robot without legs worked with astronauts when it flew to the ISS in 2011 and worked till 2014. It was brought back to earth as it developed problems after that. CIMON, ESA’s social robot is on the ISS since 2018. It can recognize faces, capture images and assist astronauts in communicating with Watson, IBM’s NLP computer on Earth.

The most advanced robots have been from the Astrobee project of NASA. They will take over from the SPHERES satellites, which served 10 years as an experimental hardware platform.

The Astrobees are more advanced than SPHERES. They will be serving as payload carriers and gradually take over regular tasks in ISS such as equipment inventory and instrument surveys. Astrobee’s project manager, Maria Bualat said that in a crewed spaceflight, crew time is very precious. Assistant robots will be performing the repetitive and dangerous tasks which the crew has to perform now. Development work for robots to operate in space itself is also in progress. These robots can perform works such as repairing external leaks so that astronauts do not have to perform an extravehicular activity.

naryn kala fortress

Researchers reveal the details of mysterious underground vault in Russia

The original purpose of the mysterious subterranean vault which is present under the Naryn-Kala fortress in Derbent, Russia was not known for several decades. However, with the use of technology, the original identity of the building is now known. The study has been published in the journal Applied Sciences.

Scientists used a nuclear physics technology which is known as muon radiography. It tracks the muons that are generated by the interaction of the cosmic rays with the atmosphere of the Earth. When they pass through space, nuclear emulsion plates are used as detectors for catching the particles to develop the image of where the muons passed and the location of their absorption or deflection. Using this method to scan the subterranean structure, the team identified it to be a vast church. It could be the oldest church existing in Russia. Till now, researchers were split upon the idea if it was a church, water tank or a Zoroastrian fire temple. However it seems from the measurements, that is indeed a church. 

Natalia Polukhina, a physicist from the National University of Science and Technology said that the strange building where the detectors were put resembled a cross. One of the sides is two meters longer than others. Researchers could not excavate what is present underneath the Naryn-Kala fortress as it is a UNESCO cultural heritage site. So they lowered the detectors into the depths and scanned the internal dimensions for four months. 

The building measured around 11 meters high, 15 meters from north to south and 13.4 metres from east to west. The dome is present at the centre of the cruciform design.

The site was probably used as a water tank in the 17 and 18th centuries, however differences with another reservoir suggested that it was not originally used for storing water and had some other purpose. 

According to the archaeologists, the building during its construction stood entirely on the surface and is on the highest point of the Naryn-Kala. Hence it does not make sense that a tank will be kept even on the highest mountain. It is understood that the building was buried after Derbent was taken over by the Sasanian Persian Empire. The area has been important strategically being a part of the trade route between Europe and the Middle East. 

The scan revealed a strange build-up of muons in the western wing which indicated that architectural features which were preserved could be scanned similarly with the help of non-invasive approach. Researchers want to keep their work for producing a full-scale image of what has been buried underneath the Naryn-Kala fortress. 

Journal Reference: Applied Sciences