Autonomy for Robust Mars Operations
Daniel Clancy, Vineet Gupta, James Kurien, Mark Shirley, firstname.lastname@example.org
Space missions have historically relied upon a large ground staff, numbering in the hundreds for complex missions, to maintain routine operations. When an anomaly occurs, this small army of engineers attempts to identify and work around the problem. A piloted Mars mission, with its multiyear duration, cost pressures, half-hour communication delays and two-week blackouts cannot be closely controlled by a battalion of engineers on Earth. Flight crew involvement in routine system operations must also be minimized to maximize science return. It also may be unrealistic to require the crew have the expertise in each mission subsystem needed to diagnose a system failure and effect a timely repair, as engineers did for Apollo 13.
Enter model-based autonomy, which allows complex systems to autonomously maintain operation despite failures or anomalous conditions, contributing to safe, robust, and minimally supervised operation of spacecraft, life support, ISRU and power systems. Autonomous reasoning is central to the approach. A reasoning algorithm uses a logical or mathematical model of a system to infer how to operate the system, diagnose failures and generate appropriate behavior to repair or reconfigure the system in response.
The “plug-and-play” nature of the models enables low cost development of autonomy for multiple platforms. Declarative, reusable models capture relevant aspects of the behavior of simple devices (e.g. valves or thrusters). Reasoning algorithms combine device models to create a model of the system-wide interactions and behavior of a complex, unique artifact such as a spacecraft. Rather than requiring engineers to envision all possible interactions and failures at design time or perform analysis during the mission, the reasoning engine generates the appropriate response to the current situation, taking into account its system-wide knowledge, the current state, and even sensor failures or unexpected behavior.
We also discuss ongoing application to Mars hardware prototypes, flight tests and future research.