back to article NASA? More like NASAI: Brainy robots 'crucial' to space exploration

Autonomous space robots are going to be key to making new discoveries and exploring the furthest reaches of our Solar System and beyond, according to NASA scientists. “By making their own exploration decisions, robotic spacecraft can conduct traditional science investigations more efficiently and even achieve otherwise …

  1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Go

    The classic scientist algorithm "That's odd, we should assign some resources for more study"

    The tricky bits are buried in how exactly do you define "odd", "some" and "resources" ?

    Starting with the the point that one persons outlying (but valid) observation is another persons probable instrument error.

    And that's the easy part. You can just crunch it overnight on a NASA server farm.

    The SoA for on board space computers is roughly a Power PC running about 400MHz flash drive (NASA never seemed to like spinning rust on orbit). Capacity isn't too much of a problem but main memory is also fairly limited. I'm not sure if NASA has run any GPU's or GPU arrays on orbit yet. Very handy to have in this sort of situation but difficult to get in rad hard Mil Spec versions.

    Keep in mind that beyond Jupiter by the time a probe has sent back a report of something interesting and NASA has a)Agreed it is interesting and b)What to do about it

    the phenomena could have disappeared. If the mission is a flyby then the probe may already have gone past it.

    Exciting times.

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Autonomous exploration of Alpha Centauri

    Now that would be one hell of a project. Unfortunately, it would also be fraught with more dangers than we can know since we know nothing of the space between our Sun's heliosphere and the one over there.

    Then there's the fact that they want to do the trip in 60 years, which pretty much guarantees that anyone there at mission start will be retired (and possibly dead) by the time the probe arrives and that just might complicate project management a smidgen.

    On the other hand, it'll just be a question of monitoring the data flow - it's not like we'll have the option of sending commands back. On the matter of the data flow : how will it be possible to ensure that the probe's signal will be distinguishable from Alpha Centauri's output ? I am sure that the probe will be able to pinpoint the Sun and aim the emitter properly, but I'm also fairly sure that the signal arriving here will be very, very weak. I wonder how they'll solve that little problem.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Autonomous exploration of Alpha Centauri

      There are lots and lots of unsolved problems. You can find more links and discussion here: https://www.theregister.co.uk/2016/04/12/yuri_milner_stephen_hawking_interstellar_space_mission/

    2. DJO Silver badge

      Re: Autonomous exploration of Alpha Centauri

      how will it be possible to ensure that the probe's signal will be distinguishable from Alpha Centauri's output ?

      Now this is where you get clever, rather than a single craft you have a swam of micro-probes propelled by a laser at this end, these craft have a broad selection of sensors and pretty weedy transmitters. After the sensor craft you regularly launch a handful of repeater craft which you don't accelerate to quite the same speed so you end up with a chain of repeaters between here and Alpha Centauri which can handle the data with ease.

      This scheme allows a further refinement, if you have a second set of sensor probes about 10 to 15 years behind the first set they can be directed and programmed to look at any interesting things the first ones spotted but were going to fast to investigate thoroughly.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: Autonomous exploration of Alpha Centauri

        chain of repeaters between here and Alpha Centauri which can handle the data with ease

        A chain of weedy transmitters does not make a viable repeater chain and will definitely not be able to handle anything with ease.

        Where do people get that stuff? Stephen Hawing?

        You neet to put a RTG on each of those weedy probes and fit them with largish radio dishes.

        "Microprobes" these ain't.

        1. DJO Silver badge

          Re: Autonomous exploration of Alpha Centauri

          A chain of weedy transmitters does not make a viable repeater chain

          Reading comprehension failure #1

          I said the sensor craft would have weak transmitters, the repeaters by definition would only be carrying a receiver & transmitter without the science package so they would not be weedy in the slightest.

          While a RTG is one way and would be needed if there was constant comms traffic, but there wont be, it'll be a few bursts so a simpler energy supply would suffice and a Gigabit connection is not required, make it slow but reliable.

          The science craft can work on solar power from Alpha C & P as can the repeaters near that end of the chain.

          1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

            Re: Autonomous exploration of Alpha Centauri

            Please quantify your thoughts in kilowatt and janskys otherwise it's just a waste of time.

    3. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: Autonomous exploration of Alpha Centauri

      "I wonder how they'll solve that little problem."

      With several really big antennas, preferable positioned somewhere in space where they have a good 'line of sight" towards Alpha Centauri?

  3. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    A definition of AI:

    Something that can say "hmmm, that's odd" and mean it?

  4. Scott Broukell

    And . . .

    If we talk nicely to the AI machines they may just agree to take some powered human (in 'just add some water' form), along for the ride to find a suitable planet with said ingredient, so that we can spread the human colonization of the universe and broaden our mining and energy industry potential etc.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: And . . .

      The Songs of Distant Earth

    2. Ugotta B. Kiddingme Silver badge

      Re: And . . .

      so basically a reversal of roles in the plot of Rendezvous with Rama? While I certainly like the idea, there are some pretty steep technology challenges for "any time soon."

  5. Dave 126 Silver badge

    As long as nobody, in response to a discovery of a Lunar magnetic anomaly for example, hurriedly bolts on some extra orders at very a late stage of the mission planning process, the crew should be safe from the shipboard AI.

  6. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    Parlor games

    Get back to me when the basic problems of von Neumann probes have been solved.

    I will be waiting next to my phone.

  7. adam 40 Bronze badge

    Will it start a war?

    I hope that they include in the code whatever recommendations come from the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) guidelines.

    It would be a shame if it decided to do something (change course?) that was then interpreted as an attack by an alien civilisation, and they returned the favour by launching a battle fleet. I have two small dogs and they already have trouble with their guts, thank you, without having to swallow the arriving battle fleets.

    P.S. to those above, we used to do AI on quite puny computers back in the '80's, you just have to be careful with the code.

  8. TheElder

    Very interesting video on this subject

    Robot Explorers

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2020