SpaceX is sending an AI robotic ‘crew member’ to affix the astronauts on the house station

Early Friday morning, SpaceX will launch its 15th cargo mission to the Worldwide Area Station for NASA, sending up almost 6,000 kilos of provides on high of its Falcon 9 rocket. On board the car are shipments of meals and water for the six astronauts dwelling on the ISS, in addition to new science experiments and applied sciences to be examined out in microgravity. And inside that haul contains the primary ever AI robotic “crew member” to dwell on the station.

The robotic’s identify is CIMON — for Crew Interactive Cell Companion — and it appears to be like a bit like a volleyball with a pc display screen on one aspect. The display screen shows a simplified cartoon face that the bot will use to work together with the people on the ISS. And to maneuver round, CIMON is supplied with 14 inside followers that propel the white ball, by sucking within the station’s air and expelling it to maneuver in no matter route it wants. Which means CIMON can “float” all through the station, zooming as much as astronauts that decision its identify and nodding in response to questions.

CIMON appears to be like a bit like a volleyball with a pc display screen on one aspect

Airbus developed CIMON for Germany’s nationwide house company, and the objective is to see whether or not clever bots can cooperate with astronauts to simplify work life in house. CIMON’s already been examined out on a parabolic flight — an airplane that flies a particular trajectory to create temporary moments of weightlessness. And CIMON has educated a number of instances on Earth with German astronaut Alexander Gerst, who’s already on board the ISS. So the bot’s microphones and cameras are specifically tuned to acknowledge his voice and face. Nonetheless, CIMON’s makers say the bot’s voice-controlled AI capabilities, supplied by IBM, enable the companion to work together with any astronaut that calls its identify.

A rendering of what CIMON will seem like on the ISS
Picture: DLR

As soon as on the station, Gerst will greet CIMON and use the bot for assist with a pair science experiments. For instance, CIMON can stroll Gerst by means of a fancy process with the assistance of images and movies it will probably show on its display screen. Gerst may also ask CIMON questions in regards to the experiments he shall be engaged on. CIMON is supposed to easily check out this AI companion expertise, so the bot will solely work together with Gerst and different crew members for 3 hours whole on the station. However what it learns may assist inform the design of comparable AI bots sooner or later.

Together with CIMON, SpaceX can be sending up an instrument that shall be hooked up to the skin of the ISS to measure the temperatures of crops on Earth. These measurements can inform scientists how wired our planet’s ecosystems are and if the world’s crops are receiving sufficient water. Moreover, SpaceX will carry up an additional latching mechanism that may connect to the tip of Canada’s robotic arm on the skin of the house station. The arm, which is an extended snakelike robotic, has had two of those mechanisms on both finish for the final 17 years. However Canada’s house company has observed some put on and tear on the mechanisms over time, and one of many latches really failed in fall 2017. Canada has since changed the mechanisms with spares, however the nation is sending up one other one simply in case there’s one other failure.

“Our groups have gotten extraordinarily environment friendly on the refurbishment course of.”

SpaceX is using a used Falcon 9 rocket for this mission, in addition to a used Dragon cargo capsule to hold all the provides to the ISS. It marks the third time the corporate has flown each a refurbished Dragon and Falcon 9 for NASA. The Dragon beforehand flew to the house station in July of 2016, whereas the Falcon 9 flew in April of this 12 months, when it launched a brand new planet-hunting satellite tv for pc for NASA known as TESS. The rocket landed on considered one of SpaceX’s drone ships after take off, and the corporate was in a position to make the car flight-ready once more in simply two and a half months. That’s the shortest turnaround time wanted for a Falcon 9 rocket but. “Our groups have gotten extraordinarily environment friendly on the refurbishment course of,” Jessica Jensen, director of Dragon mission administration at SpaceX, mentioned at a press convention earlier than the mission.

The identical Dragon cargo capsule that flew to the ISS in July 2016 goes to house once more
Picture: NASA

Nonetheless, SpaceX gained’t try to land this Falcon 9 after liftoff. This mission would be the final launch of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Block four, on older model of the rocket that the corporate is phasing out. After this flight, all of SpaceX’s future Falcon 9 launches shall be on the Block 5 — the ultimate and strongest improve of the rocket that makes it even simpler to land and reuse. The Block 5 can be the rocket that SpaceX will use to launch NASA astronauts to the ISS as a part of the company’s Business Crew Program.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 is scheduled to take off from Cape Canaveral Air Drive Station in Florida at 5:42AM ET on Friday, and the Dragon is ready to rendezvous with the house station three days afterward Monday at round 7AM ET. The corporate has an instantaneous launch window, although, so if it doesn’t take off proper on time tomorrow, it’ll must attempt once more one other day. A backup launch date is ready for Sunday, July 1st at four:54AM ET. Nonetheless, climate is wanting good for a Friday launch, with a 90 % likelihood of favorable circumstances.

NASA’s protection of the launch will start on NASA TV at 5:15AM ET, whereas SpaceX’s protection will start round 20 minutes earlier than liftoff.

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