The Soyuz MS-14 spacecraft was successfully launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome this morning carrying supplies for the International Space Station (ISS) and a humanoid robot called Skybot.
The Soyuz 2.1a booster carrying the Soyuz MS-14 spacecraft was launched at 03:38 UTC (8:38 local time) this morning. Both vehicles carried upgrades that are expected to prepare the Russian crewed spaceflight program for the future. The Soyuz booster was equipped with upgraded engines and a new digital flight control system. The MS-14 spacecraft carried a revamped descent control system and upgraded motion control and navigation systems.
Traditionally, the Soyuz MS spacecraft are reserved for crewed flights while the Progress expendable spacecraft are used for cargo missions. However, this morning’s flight was used as a certification mission for the upgrades to both the Soyuz booster and MS spacecraft. Russia hopes to begin to retire the Soyuz FG booster in favour of the upgraded Soyuz 2.1a, which will be utilised with the upgraded MS spacecraft in the first half of 2020.
Although this morning’s launch didn’t carry a human crew, it did carry the Russian humanoid robot, Skybot. The robot is designed to assist with station operations and is built to replicate the movements of a remote operator back on Earth. Additionally, Skybot is able to conduct some actions autonomously.
During launch and the flight to the ISS, Skybot will record G-force and temperature information from inside the Soyuz spacecraft. Once onboard the station, it will undergo a two-week evaluation period that will test its ability to function in microgravity. Following the two-week test period, it will be placed in the Soyuz MS-14 Descent Module for its return to Earth during which it will again be tasked with collecting data from inside the spacecraft.