Minimize ISS Utilization: CIMON

ISS Utilization: CIMON (Crew Interactive MObile companioN)

Background    Launch    Mission Status   References

CIMON is a mobile and autonomous assistance system designed to aid astronauts with their everyday tasks on the ISS (International Space Station). This will be the first form of AI (Artificial Intelligence) on an ISS mission. Airbus, in cooperation with IBM, developed CIMON, an AI-based assistant for astronauts for the DLR Space Administration. CIMON will be tested on the ISS by astronaut Alexander Gerst during the Horizons mission of ESA (European Space Agency) between June and October 2018. 1)

CIMON is able to see, hear, understand, speak – and fly. It is roughly spherical, has a diameter of 32 cm with a mass of 5 kg. Its robotic predecessor was Professor Simon Wright's 'flying brain', with sensors, cameras and a speech processor in the 1978 cartoon series, 'Captain Future'. Almost 40 years later, CIMON, the astronaut's flight attendant and assistance system, could turn science fiction into 'science fact'. 2)

From summer 2018 onwards, CIMON will become the new 'crew member' on the ISS, to demonstrate cooperation between humans and intelligent machines in the form of a technology experiment. The interactive astronaut assistant was developed and built by Airbus in Friedrichshafen and Bremen on behalf of DLR (German Aerospace Center) and funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Energie; BMWi). Watson AI (Artificial Intelligence) technology from the IBM Cloud provides voice-controlled artificial intelligence. The human aspects of the assistance system were co-developed and supervised by scientists at LMU (Ludwig-Maximilian University) Hospital in Munich (LMU Klinikum ). An approximately 50-strong DLR, Airbus, IBM and LMU project team has been working on implementing CIMON since August 2016. "CIMON is globally unique in this form," summarizes Christian Karrasch, CIMON Project Manager at the DLR Space Administration in Bonn. "We have implemented this experiment in a very short time. It is intended to show to what extent the astronauts' work can be supported in the European Columbus module on the ISS and relieve them, in particular, of routine tasks. Ideally, the astronauts could use their time better and more effectively. With CIMON, we are entering new territory and operating at the threshold of technological feasibility."


Figure 1: Photo of CIMON at the EAC (European Astronaut Center) in Cologne (image credit; DLR)

Microgravity in parabolic flight:

CIMON will enter microgravity on 9 March 2018 during the 31st DLR parabolic flight campaign in Bordeaux. In particular, orientation, navigation and steering will be tested, to ensure that it is optimally prepared for use on the ISS – in permanent microgravity. In June, CIMON will then travel to the ISS on board the US Space-X CRS-15 space transport mission, where it will be greeted by the German ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst.

Following a functional test, the German astronaut will perform three experiments with his artificial colleague. On the agenda are experiments with crystals and a Rubik's cube, and a medical experiment in which CIMON will be used as a flying camera.

CIMON allows the astronaut to keep both hands free, with no need to manually operate a computer, for example. Thanks to this fully voice-controlled access to documents and media, the astronaut can conveniently navigate through operating and repair instructions and procedures for experiments and equipment. CIMON will thus serve as a complex database of all the necessary information for working on the ISS, and can also be used as a mobile camera for documentation purposes.

When making its space debut, however, the intelligent artificial assistant will not have all the capabilities envisaged by its developers: "In the introduction period, we want to concentrate on group effects that develop in small teams over a long period of time and can occur during long-term missions to the Moon and Mars. Social interaction between humans and machines, and between astronauts and emotionally intelligent flight attendants could play an important role in the success of these missions," explains Till Eisenberg, CIMON project lead at Airbus Friedrichshafen. The engineers are also interested in processing Big Data and data mining.

"The aim of the CIMON project is to examine the current capabilities of artificial intelligence in a complex environment such as the International Space Station, in order to provide the best possible support to people in such conditions," says Matthias Biniok, IBM's lead Watson architect in Germany, explaining their interest in the project. For example, CIMON uses Watson AI to process text, speech and images, find specific information and knowledge, and interpret moods and feelings. Biniok adds: "These skills can be individually trained and enhanced within the context of their respective application. Artificial intelligence also makes particular use of artificial neural networks." 3)

IBM Watson services run on the IBM Cloud, which provides a further advantage for users, in general, and for use on the ISS in particular: sensitive, proprietary data can remain where it is created, such as in the protected area of your own server or database. You don't need to upload it to an external cloud for it to be enriched with appropriate AI capabilities.

Scientific background:

CIMON also has a scientific background; its advisors are Judith-Irina Buchheim and Alexander Choukèr from the Department of Anesthesiology at the Ludwig-Maximilian University Hospital in Munich. During a variety of research projects, Buchheim and Choukèr are investigating the effects of stress on the human immune system. "We not only examine patients in intensive care units, but also people exposed to extreme stress and workload as a result of their environment, such as polar explorers in the Antarctic and astronauts on the International Space Station," reports Buchheim, adding: "Our studies show that being subjected to microgravity for a certain period can significantly affect the functioning of an astronaut's immune system. Stress is a major factor here." For example, strenuous tasks that are performed with a colleague are generally less arduous when people work well together. "As a partner and assistant, CIMON could support astronauts with their high workload of experiments and maintenance and repair work, thereby reducing their exposure to stress." According to Buchheim, possible applications on Earth are the support of engineers, researchers and doctors, AI-based enquiries about medical symptoms and everyday assistance for elderly people living alone.


CIMON the assistant:

CIMON's structure was built entirely using a 3D printing process, and is made of metal and plastic. Its 'face' is a display unit intended to hover at the astronaut's eye level. It can present and explain information and instructions for scientific experiments and repairs. Its 'eyes' are two cameras, and it also has an additional camera for face recognition. Two side cameras are used for video documentation and could also be used for additional computer-generated functions (augmented reality). Ultrasonic sensors measure distances for collision detection. Seven microphones act as 'ears' for detecting where sounds are originating, and there is a directional microphone for good voice recognition. Its 'mouth' is a loudspeaker that can be used to talk or play music. The core speech comprehension element of the AI is the IBM Watson system.

CIMON is unable to learn independently; a human must actively train it. The AI for autonomous navigation is provided by Airbus and used for motion planning and object recognition. CIMON can freely move and rotate in all spatial directions using 14 internal fans. It can therefore turn towards the astronaut when it is spoken to, nod and shake its head and follow the astronaut – autonomously or on command. In microgravity on the ISS, it can be used for two hours. The dimensions of CIMON's face are modelled on the proportions of a human face. Gestures and facial expressions are also possible, as is a female, male or neutral appearance and voice. CIMON's product design was implemented in collaboration with Reichert Design, a company from Stetten at the Bodensee (Lake Constance).

The Watson AI was trained using voice samples and photos of Alexander Gerst, and procedures and plans of the Columbus module of the International Space Station were loaded into the database. Alexander Gerst also had a say in the selection of CIMON's screen face and computer voice so that he, too, could ‘make friends' with his electronic colleague.

Once the functional testing of the system has been completed, Gerst will work in Space with CIMON a total of three times: They will experiment with crystals, work together to solve the Rubik's cube and perform a complex medical experiment using CIMON as an ‘intelligent' flying camera.

In its first Space mission, CIMON will only be equipped with a selected range of capabilities. In the medium term, aerospace researchers also plan to use the CIMON project to examine group effects that can develop over a long period of time in small teams and that may arise during long-term missions to the Moon or Mars. Social interaction between people and machines, between astronauts and assistance systems equipped with emotional intelligence, could play an important role in the success of long-term missions. Airbus' developers are convinced that, here on Earth, developments of the assistance system could also find future use in hospitals and social care.


Figure 2: Artist's view of one of CIMON's exercises on the ISS will involve a Rubik's Cube (image credit: Airbus)


Launch: The SpaceX CRS-15 (Commercial Resupply Services-15) Dragon logistics mission was launched on 29 June 2018 on a Falcon-9 vehicle. The launch site was Cape Canaveral SCL-40. Dragon carried more than 2672 kg of supplies and payloads, including critical materials to directly support more than 250 science and research investigations that will occur onboard the orbiting laboratory. 4) 5) 6)

Orbit: Near-circular orbit of the ISS, altitude of ~400 km, inclination = 51.6º, period = 93 minutes.

Science instruments on the SpaceX CRS-15 logistics flight: 7)

1) ECOSTRESS of NASA/JPL. measures the temperature of plants and uses that information to better understand how much water plants need and how they respond to stress.

2) Mobile Companion, an ESA (European Space Agency) investigation, also known as CIMON (Crew Interactive Mobile Companion), explores the use of AI as a way to mitigate crew stress and workload during long-term spaceflight.

3) Rodent Research-7 takes a look at how the microgravity environment of space affects the community of microoganisms in the gastrointestinal tract, or microbiota.

4) Angiex Cancer Therapy examines whether microgravity-cultured endothelial cells represent a valid in vitro model to test effects of vascular-targeted agents on normal blood vessels.

5) Chemical Gardens are structures that grow during the interaction of metal salt solutions with silicates, carbonates or other selected anions. Their growth characteristics and attractive final shapes form from a complex interplay between reaction-diffusion processes and self-organization.

These investigations join hundreds of others currently happening aboard the orbiting laboratory.

Secondary payloads:

• Project Biarri Squad 1-3 technology demonstration: The Biarri project is a four nation defence related project involving Australia, the US, the UK and Canada to build three 3U CubeSats for precision formation flying experiments and a risk mitigation satellite.

• Bhutan-1, a 1U CubeSat: Bhutan, along with Malaysia and the Philippines, is currently participating in the second joint global multi-nations BIRDS Project called BIRDS-2, initiated by KIT (Kyutech Institute of Technology), Japan, which is represented by four engineers from the telecom and space division of the information and communications ministry (MoIC).

• MAYA-1, the first Filipino 1U CubeSat implemented by the PHL-Microsat Program of the University of the Philippines Diliman, in collaboration with the DOST-ASTI (Department of Science and Technology - Advanced Science and Technology Institute) and the KIT (Kyushu Institute of Technology), Japan. The development of the Maya-1 falls under BIRDS-2 (Birds Satellite Project; note: the BIRDS-2 CubeSats are Bhutan-1, MAYA-1 and UiTMSAT-1), a cross-border interdisciplinary satellite project that accommodates non-space faring countries.

• UiTMSAT-1, a 1U CubeSat of Malaysia. JAXA arranged for the testing and the launch of the BIRDS-2 CubeSats to the ISS.


Status of the CIMON mission:

• July 6, 2018: After 3 days of orbiting th Earth with ground teams in Hawthorne and Houston watching its every move, Dragon was captured by NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold. The Dragon spacecraft was attached to the Node 2 Harmony module on 2 July 2018. 8)

- CIMON will be the first AI-based assistant used on station. Its primary design is to help with routine tasks. However, thanks to its neural AI network and ability to learn, CIMON may very well offer solutions to onboard problems should they occur.

- In order to serve as a test case for the new technology, the first mission of CIMON will only utilize a selected range of capabilities. If all goes well, AI-based assistants like CIMON will be a critical part of long-duration human space flight missions in the future. Until then, only time will tell what CIMON says.


1) "Airbus is developing the CIMON astronaut assistance system for the DLR Space Administration," Airbus Press Release, 26 February 2018, URL:

2) "CIMON - the intelligent astronaut assistant," DLR, 2 March 2018, URL:

3) Matthias Biniok, "Watson Hops On Board Human Space Flight," 26 Feb. 2018, URL:

4) "Dragon Resupply Mission (CRS-15)," SpaceX News, 29 june 2018, URL:

5) Stephen Clak, "A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will launch the CRS-15 flight on 29 June 2018," Spaceflight Now, 4 June 2018, URL:

6) US Commercial ELV launch manifest, 6 March 2018, URL:

7) "ECOSTRESS Among Science Payloads on Next Space Station Mission," NASA/JPL, 12 June 2018, URL:

8) Mark Garcia, "Space to Ground: Meet CIMON: 07/06/2018," NASA, 6 July 2018, URL:

The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: "Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors" (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (


Background    Launch   Mission Status   References   Back to Top