Prior space missions have not routinely used onboard decision-making. The Autonomous Sciencecraft (ASE), flying onboard the Earth Observing One spacecraft, has been flying autonomous agent software for the past decade that enables it to analyze acquired imagery onboard, and use that analysis to determine future imaging. However, ASE takes approximately one hour to analyze and respond.

A scheduling prototype was developed for the Earth Observing Autonomy (EOA) project to increase the responsiveness of spacecraft flight software for onboard decision-making, as well as to increase the capabilities of flight software. Specifically, onboard image analysis and response performance are estimated to be in the minutes range operating on standard flight hardware. This work focused on the re-scheduling of the future image acquisitions in the context of an existing set of requests, along with new requests based on onboard analysis of just-acquired imagery.

The software prototype of the EOA capability includes several autonomy components:

  1. Onboard science processing algorithms. Science analysis algorithms process onboard image data to detect science events and suggest reactions to maximize science return. Specifically, the use of the Mixture-Tuned Match Filter (MTMF) for onboard spectral analysis of acquired imagery was investigated, but ASE has already demonstrated the utility of thermal analysis for volcanoes and wildfires, spec-specifies tral analysis for flooding, spectral analysis for cryosphere study, as well as spectral unmixing for mineralogical analysis.
  2. Onboard planning and scheduling software. The Continuous Activity Scheduling Planning Execution and Replanning (CASPER), combined with the Eagle Eye Mission Planning Software system, generates a baseline mission operations plan from observation requests. This baseline plan is subject to considerable modification onboard in response to data analysis from step 1. The model-based planning algorithms enable rapid response to a wide range of operations scenarios based on models of spacecraft constraints.
  3. Robust execution software. The JPL core flight software (CFS) expands the CASPER mission plan to low-level spacecraft commands, and includes a powerful and expressive sequencing engine. The CFS sequencing engine monitors the execution of the plan and has the flexibility and knowledge to perform improvements in execution as well as local responses to anomalies.

This work was done by Dero Gharibian and Steve A. Chien of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. This software is available for license through the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and you may request a license at: https://download.jpl.nasa.gov/ops/request/request_introduction.cfm . NPO-49806


NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the June, 2016 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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