KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla., Dec. 5 (UPI) — SpaceX plans a second attempt Thursday for its 19th cargo mission to the International Space Station carrying supplies, experiments and a new version of the CIMON robot designed to interact with astronauts.
SpaceX postponed a launch attempt Wednesday because of strong high-altitude winds and rough seas that could impact efforts to recover the first-stage booster at sea. Strong upper-level winds could knock the Falcon 9 rocket off course.
A new attempt is set for 12:29 p.m. from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
The onboard robot is designed to float in the space station’s habitat.
CIMON — an acronym for Crew Interactive Mobile Companion — is capable of conversing with astronauts, helping them remember procedures and eventually detecting their mood in case of problems on board. It was built by Airbus with help from IBM and the German Aerospace Center.
The first version of CIMON was tested on the station in November 2018, with mixed results. Video showed German astronaut Alexander Gerst turning on the robot and holding a five-minute conversation with it. CIMON appeared to malfunction, floating down toward the deck of the station despite Gerst’s attempt to pull it back.
But the robot did answer questions and play a song that was billed as Gerst’s favorite in the video, The Man Machine, by German band Kraftwerk. Finally CIMON told Gerst to “Be nice to me,” prompting snickers from the crew.
At one point in its conversation, the robot responded with comments about dancing when Gerst told it to “cancel” the music it was playing.
“The first CIMON was sent back to Earth and will go to a museum,” said Till Eisenberg, a project manager for Airbus. “The new version has better microphones and software life that can last up to three years in space.”
The goal, Eisenberg said, is to have CIMON support the crew’s mental health and mood with conversation. It also could be equipped with sensors, such as those that would detect carbon monoxide if astronauts appear groggy.
In an upgrade, two robotic leak detectors will be stored in the exterior toolbox, reducing preparation time in space because they no longer will have to be brought through airlocks. They are equipped with with mass spectrometers that can detect leaks from the space station, NASA said.
The tool stowage assembly was developed at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, in partnership with NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
The mission will launch on a new Falcon 9 rocket. Other recent SpaceX launches have employed reused rockets. The Dragon capsule that will carry the cargo previously flew on SpaceX’s CRS-6 and CRS-11.
The capsule is scheduled to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere in January and splash down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California with 3,600 pounds of return cargo.