MEDIA RELATIONS OFFICE
JET PROPULSION LABORATORY
CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION
PASADENA, CALIFORNIA 91109. TELEPHONE (818) 354-5011
Contact: John G. Watson, JPL, (818) 354-5011
John Bluck, NASA Ames Research Center, (650) 604-5026
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 17, 1999
COMPUTER PROGRAM ASSUMES SPACECRAFT COMMAND
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 http://rax.arc.nasa.gov .
"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
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.