NASA software finds satellite problems

Scientists corrupted a spacecraft's system and caught the glitches with artificial intelligence software in a test.

E0-1 satellite

NASA scientists recently corrupted a spacecraft's system and caught the glitches with artificial intelligence (AI) software in a test.

Normally, troubleshooting is done on the ground by people.

The AI software, Livingstone Version 2 (L2), automatically detects and diagnoses simulated failures in the NASA Earth Observing One (E0-1) satellite's instruments and systems. E0-1, launched in November 2000, is a flying test bed for new technologies and techniques intended to boost safety and to reduce costs and development times.

Simulated failures included tampering with the satellite's power and recorder and its camera's cover.

"This is the kind of technique and technology NASA needs to support exploration of the Earth, moon, Mars and beyond in the 21st century," said Ghassem Asrar, deputy associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "This software grants us the ability to troubleshoot the robotic systems required to handle increasingly complex tasks of exploration, while they are millions of miles and perhaps light years away from Earth," he said.

Because the system is portable, it can be reused on a variety of space flights, including trips to Mars or other planets. The one-year project cost more than $500,000.

"This is really just laying the ground for an autonomous flight," said Sandra Hayden, the Livingstone E0-1 experiment's principal investigator. "You wouldn't need the ground to figure out the problem." She is a scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center, located in California's Silicon Valley. "That is pretty convenient because there's not always a human around to take care of these things," Hayden said.

Next, the software will run in real-world systems for at least a week to see if it can catch actual glitches instead of just simulated ones. Eventually, self-recovery will be a major goal of the software.

Tests of the L2 computer program are taking place while another software application controls E0-1. Officials at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., are conducting the Autonomous Sciencecraft Experiment, which is controlling EO-1. Officials at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., manage E0-1 operations.

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