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Autonomous Missions Software Experiment Successfully Completed

The Autonomous Mission Operations (AMO) project completed an extensive human spaceflight autonomy test onboard the International Space Station (ISS). From late August of 2014 until May 12 of 2015, the experiment tested advanced software and protocols allowing astronauts to operate future spacecraft. ISS crews used this software to operate a water quality analyzer (the Total Organic Carbon Analyzer - TOCA) and monitor onboard crew computers (Station Support Computers - SSCs). During the experiment, the crew recommended future TOCA activities, monitored TOCA water quality results, monitored TOCA operations for faults, recommended fault responses in the event of faults, and monitored SSCs and recommended responses in the event of SSC faults. The crew used a software system designed to assist them in this task; the software included an automated scheduler, anomaly and fault detection, isolation technology, and multiple innovative user interface concepts for presentation of complex device performance and engineering schematic information to crew.

While analysis of the experiment is ongoing, initial results indicate the software and crew performed very well: when compared to operational results, software recommendations to the crew were correct at least 89% of the time, and the crew correctly interpreted software results more than 93% of the time.

A view of the experiment “by the numbers”:

  • 70 million miles traveled
  • 4016 SSC data analyses performed
  • 251 days onboard
  • 123 data downlinks
  • 106 flight controllers used the software
  • 47 TOCA samples analyzed on orbit
  • 41 TOCA schedule updates
  • 16 uses of AMO software by ISS crew
  • 6 valid TOCA off-nominal detections
  • 4 uses of ISS increments software
  • 4 uses of AMO software by ISS astronauts
  • 3 AMO software updates performed on orbit
  • 2 countries' astronauts used the AMO software

The AMO team at Ames spans the Autonomous Systems and Robotics, Computer Assisted Systems, and Discovery and Systems Health areas of the Intelligent Systems Division.

BACKGROUND: The purpose of the AMO project is to define vehicle capabilities, roles and responsibilities of ground and crew, and their interactions in order to enable NASA missions to distant destinations.

Future human spaceflight missions will place crews at large distances and light-time delays from Earth. The one-way light-time delay to the Moon is 1.2 seconds, which is sufficient to make continuous control (e.g., for landing) difficult or impossible to conduct from Earth. One-way light-time delays to destinations such as Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs) at close approach range from seconds to minutes. The one-way light-time delay to Mars ranges from 3 minutes (at conjunction) to 22 minutes (at opposition). NASA will require autonomous mission operations when spacecraft crew are far away from Earth, because communication with the ground will incur long communication latencies. These missions will require changing the capabilities of spacecraft, changing the roles and responsibilities of ground and crew, and changing the ways that ground and crew interact during the mission.

Autonomous Mission Operations is the capability of a crewed spacecraft to plan and fly a mission with minimum support from the ground. The AMO project is building advanced technology to conduct experiments both onboard ISS and during the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV)/Orion Exploration Flight Test in order to demonstrate crew autonomy and Mission Control Center (MCC) automation. In the experiment onboard ISS during Increments 39 and 40, ISS crew will use new technology and operational protocols to recommend water sampling activities normally scheduled by the ground, analyze both water quality and water analyzer hardware performance, and report hardware problems and recommended solutions during a planned off-nominal use case. ISS crew will also use new technology to assess the performance of onboard computers and report problems and recommended solutions. This experiment will demonstrate how future crews can autonomously operate spacecraft assets similar to those expected to be on future spacecraft — regardless of destination.

COLLABORATORS: AMO is a collaboration between NASA Ames Research Center, NASA Johnson Space Center, and NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.

NASA PROGRAM FUNDING: Human Exploration Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD)

Contact: Jeremy Frank

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