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The Trojan Asteroid Tour is an example of a decade-long mission in which the space vehicle becomes quite active during an encounter, and then goes into hibernation during long cruise phases between encounters. Operation teams will support each encounter, but due to operations cost, the vehicle will need to be largely autonomous during the cruises. Because of the long duration between encounters, the operations team will likely change between each encounter, without overlapping the preceding team. This presents a significant opportunity for handoff errors. To avoid these errors, the space vehicle will need to be its own caretaker, and source of “corporate memory.” The Interstellar mission accentuates issues Rovers, like NASA’s Curiosity, are protected from failure through a set highlighted by the Venus and Trojan asteroid of fault detection rules that largely halt the mission until operators can intervene. (NASA image) missions. The science opportunities and operation challenges introduced by this type of mission are particularly hard to anticipate, plan for, and encode into predefined command sequences. The same holds for a Europa under-ice mission, which has the added challenge of operating within a fluid environment, thus combining challenges found in autonomous space and autonomous air missions. The study’s final report included two takeaways. First, these missions should be commanded in terms of mission goals, rather than low-level command sequences. These goals should include the goals and priorities set by the scientists, and the operational safety constraints identified by the engineers. The space systems execution architecture, split between onboard and on the ground, should then use decision-making algorithms to plan what observations to make and which samples to collect in order to achieve these science goals; it should then decide what command sequences should be issued to achieve these science plans according to engineering operational constraints, and should perform self-diagnose and repair, in order to extend mission life.

Goal-directed risk-aware autonomous explorers


MIT AeroAstro annual magazine 2015-2016Aeroastro 2015 16  

Annual magazine review of MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics Department research and educational initiatives.

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