AUTONOMOUS REMOTE AGENT
For the third autonomy technology DS1 tested, an artificial intelligence system was placed on board to plan and execute spacecraft activities. In contrast to remote control, this sophisticated set of computer programs acts as an agent of the operations team on board the remote spacecraft. Rather than have humans do the detailed planning necessary to carry out desired tasks, remote agent will formulate its own plans, using high level goals provided by the operations team. Remote agent devises its plan by combining those goals with its detailed knowledge of both the condition of the spacecraft and how to control it. It then executes that plan, constantly monitoring its progress. If problems develop, remote agent in many cases will be able to fix them or work around them. If it cannot, it can request help from its sentient terrestrial collaborators.
In the experiments on DS1, the remote agent operated selected subsystems based on plans formulated on board. Injection of four (simulated) faults tested remote agentís ability to resolve or work around different classes of problems, and in each case it devised the correct response. A bug in the executive interrupted the first experiment, and the successful diagnosis of the problem was one important benefit of the testing; it also illustrated the value of trying out a new technology on a dedicated test mission. The bug proved to be easily correctable for future uses of the technology. Analysis showed that it was safe to continue experiments on DS1 without fixing it, so a second experiment was devised, and it captured the remaining remote agent test objectives.
Remote agent, like the other high-risk technologies that have now been tested on DS1, promises to make space exploration of the future more productive and more exciting while staying within NASAís limited budget. By transferring functions normally performed by people to the remote agent, a spacecraft may be more agile in responding to unexpected situations it encounters. In addition, if NASA is to achieve its goal of launching many more spacecraft into the solar system without spending more money, it will be necessary to have the Deep Space Network devote less time to communicating with each one. By carrying out some of the work humans now perform, remote agent will permit spacecraft to fulfill their missions without much of the time consuming communications, thus allowing the Deep Space Network to serve more spacecraft.
The testing of the remote agent accomplished 100% of the planned objectives.