archive: SETI Computer program assumes spacecraft command

SETI Computer program assumes spacecraft command

Larry Klaes ( )
Tue, 18 May 1999 09:10:01 -0400

>Date: Mon, 17 May 1999 18:44:50 -0700 (PDT)
>Subject: Computer program assumes spacecraft command
>To: undisclosed-recipients:;
>Contact: John G. Watson, JPL, (818) 354-5011
> John Bluck, NASA Ames Research Center, (650) 604-5026
> It's one small step in the history of robotic space flight;
>but it may turn out to be one giant leap for computer-kind:
>Artificial intelligence software is in primary command of a
>spacecraft for the first time.
> Known as Remote Agent, the software has been operating
>NASA's Deep Space 1 mission and its futuristic ion engine since
>11 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time today, May 17. The question: Can a
>spacecraft function entirely on its own nearly 120 million
>kilometers (75 million miles) from Earth, without detailed
>instructions from the ground?
> The public is invited to follow this ambitious 48-hour test
>as it continues to unfold today and tomorrow, through a detailed
>web page and e-mail alerts triggered by actual events on Deep
>Space 1. Learn more or sign up online at .
> "While we watch over its shoulder electronically, we are
>giving Remote Agent the responsibility to monitor Deep Space 1's
>activities and position in space, including any engine firings it
>needs to keep on course," said Dr. Pandu Nayak, deputy manager of
>Remote Agent development at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett
>Field, CA. "We are also challenging Remote Agent with some
>'unexpected problems' to see how well it reacts, and to determine
>whether it can get the mission back on track without human
> "Remote Agent can create and carry out its own plans to
>achieve the mission goals that we give it," said Dr. Doug
>Bernard, Remote Agent manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion
>Laboratory, Pasadena, CA. "This technology could allow us to
>pursue solar system exploration missions that only a few years
>ago would have been considered too elaborate, too costly or
>excessively dependent on teams of Earth-bound controllers."
> The Remote Agent software package features three components:
>the Planner/Scheduler, the Executive and one called Livingstone.
> The Planner takes general goals and determines detailed
>activities needed to achieve the goals. The test includes asking
>the Planner to achieve broad goals such as, "Find your position,
>and fire your ion engine whenever practical." If a hardware
>problem develops that prevents execution of the plan, the Planner
>makes a new plan, taking into account degraded capabilities.
> The Executive interprets the plans and adds more detail to
>them, then issues commands to the flight software, coordinating
>the three parts of Remote Agent. Some commands turn the
>spacecraft to point in a different direction. Other commands ask
>the onboard camera to take pictures of asteroids and stars for
>navigation purposes.
> Livingstone acts like a doctor, monitoring the spacecraft's
>health. If something goes wrong, Livingstone tells the Executive
>there is a problem. The Executive consults the "doctor" for
>simple procedures that may quickly remedy the problem. For
>example, if the camera does not respond, a quick fix is to turn
>the camera off and then on again. If this does not work, the
>Executive asks the Planner for a new plan that still achieves
>mission goals. If the problem is too serious, the software gives
>up and waits for help from Earth.
> Specific tests include simulation of hardware problems, such
>as a malfunctioning spacecraft thruster. This should prompt the
>software to diagnose the cause of the apparent problem and take
>corrective action. Remote Agent is designed to detect and
>recover from a set of real subsystem failures in the unlikely
>event that an actual failure should occur on Deep Space 1 during
>the remainder of the experiment.
> Launched October 24, 1998, Deep Space 1 is validating 12 new
>technologies, including Remote Agent, so that they can be
>confidently used on science missions of the 21st century. Its
>ion propulsion system has now completed more than 73 days of
>thrusting, most of that time under the control of the
>spacecraft's autonomous navigation system. The Deep Space 1 team
>expects that testing of all technologies will be complete by
>early June, with the exception of navigation system tests
>scheduled during an encounter with asteroid 1992 KD in late July.
> The Remote Agent software was developed in collaboration
>between NASA Ames and JPL. Deep Space 1, part of the New
>Millennium Program, is managed for NASA's Office of Space
>Science, Washington, DC, by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a
>division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA.
> #####
>5-17-99 JGW