Back in mid-August, the Russian space corporation Roscosmos launched a humanoid robot to the International Space Station to determine the suitability of its Soyuz 2.1a rocket to handle a crew version of the Soyuz spacecraft. The robot, officially referred to as “Skybot F-850” but nicknamed “Fedor,” spent about two weeks on the station.
During that time, Fedor performed several tests, including an assessment of the potential for conducting repairs outside the space station. The robot also demonstrated its capability to use a drill, a towel, and electrical equipment. After nearly 16 days, Fedor and its Soyuz spacecraft landed safely in the dusty steppes of Kazakhstan.
Russian scientists and engineers apparently felt the mission was enough of a success to expand their ambitions for Fedor-like robots. According to state news service RIA Novosti, the country plans to send a vehicle to the Moon in three or four years that has a humanoid torso and the body of a rover.
Yevgeny Dudorov, executive director of the Russia-based robotics firm NPO Android Technique that built Fedor, said this centaur-like robot would represent the vanguard of animal-like robots with wheeled bases sent out to explore the Solar System.
This is certainly a novel approach to exploration, and it has some benefits for worlds with gravity, as a robot with “hands” would have the ability to manipulate tools and perform other tasks in the place of humans. The wheels, of course, would allow for much greater mobility on worlds like the Moon and Mars.
But there are serious questions about funding for such an enterprise in Russia, as well as technical questions about whether Roscosmos would be able to mount an interplanetary mission. The last time the country successfully sent a spacecraft to land on another world came in 1976, when its Luna 24 mission returned 170 grams of lunar regolith to Earth.
Since that time the Russians have had a notable space program in low-Earth orbit featuring a succession of space stations, culminating in the partnership with NASA and 13 other nations to develop and fly the International Space Station. But the country has gone no further, and it’s difficult to know whether Russia truly intends to finance a fleet of Fedor-like robots to spread out over the Solar System, or if this is just good public relations for the beleaguered head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin.