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Robots May Cut Cost Of Repairing Broken Satellites In Space

Sending humans to space for satellite repairs is prohibitively expensive

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Using an artificial intelligence called genetic fuzzy logic, the researchers were able to get three robots and then five robots to move the token where the researchers wanted. Pixabay

As sending humans to space to repair broken satellites is very expensive, researchers are working on robotic satellites that can dock with other satellites for repairs or refueling.”Big commercial satellites are costly. They run out of fuel or malfunction or break down,” said Ou Ma, Professor at University of Cincinnati in the US.

The most useful repair satellite will be able to complete multiple tasks, Ma said. In his lab, Ma and University of Cincinnati senior research associate Anoop Sathyan are developing robotic networks that can work independently but collaboratively on a common task.

For their latest study, the researchers put a group of robots to the test with a novel game that uses strings to move an attached token to a designated spot on a table.

Since the robots each control just one string, they need the other robots cooperation to move the token to the right spot by increasing or relaxing tension on the string in response to each robot’s actions.

Using an artificial intelligence called genetic fuzzy logic, the researchers were able to get three robots and then five robots to move the token where the researchers wanted. The findings published in the journal Robotica showed that by using five robots, the collective could accomplish the task even if one of the robots malfunctioned.

The most famous satellites
The most famous satellite released from the Space Shuttle’s payload bay is the Hubble Space Telescope. Pixabay

“This will be especially true for problems with larger numbers of robots where the liability of an individual robot will be low,” the researchers concluded.

Ma said a million things can go wrong with every satellite launch. But for most of those glitches, nothing can be done once the satellite is deployed. A $400 million Intelsat satellite the size of a small school bus malfunctioned this year after reaching a high elliptical orbit, according to Space News.

Perhaps the most famous satellite glitch of all time occurred in 1990 when the Hubble Space Telescope was deployed only for NASA to learn its pricy mirror was warped. A subsequent repair mission aboard the space shuttle Endeavor in 1993 replaced the mirror to provide astonishing images of the universe.

Sending humans to space for satellite repairs is prohibitively expensive, Ma said. Four subsequent Hubble service missions costing billions of dollars combined were performed by astronauts from the space shuttle.

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NASA is also working on finding better solutions for repairing satellites stranded in space. In 2022, the agency will launch a satellite capable of refueling other satellites in low Earth orbit.

The goal is to intercept and refuel a US government satellite. The project called Restore-L is expected to provide proof of concept for autonomous satellite repairs, NASA said. (IANS)

Next Story

This NASA-ISRO Mission Set to Crunch Key Space Data in Cloud

"Interest in space helps everybody. And there's a lot of commercial interest now. I think if there is a business to be made, commercial space will do that. When there is no business to be made that no one can make money, then the government should do that

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University of Iowa, Radiation, Sun
FILE - Tourists take pictures of a NASA sign at the Kennedy Space Center visitors complex in Cape Canaveral, Florida, April 14, 2010. VOA

By NISHANT ARORA

As the humankind aims for deeper space missions like Mars in couple of years from now, the time is to democratize humongous data available via NASA and space agencies like the Indian Space Research organization (ISRO) that can boost space research via next-gen Cloud computing, a top NASA-JPL official has stressed.

Scheduled for launch from Sriharikota launch facility in Andhra Pradesh in 2022, the NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) mission is a joint project between the US and Indian space agencies to co-develop and launch a dual-frequency synthetic aperture radar on an Earth observation satellite. The satellite will be the first radar imaging one to use dual frequencies (L and S Band).

ISRO is likely to spend Rs 788 crore while JPL’s work share is expected to be over $800 million on this key project.

Using advanced radar imaging that will provide an unprecedented, detailed view of Earth, NISAR satellite is designed to observe and take measurements of some of the planet’s most complex processes — ecosystem disturbances, ice-sheet collapse and natural hazards such as earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes and landslides.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning-driven Cloud computing is certainly going to make the key difference once the satellite is up and running.

“NISAR is going to generate 100 terabytes per day. That’s a lot of data. It’s about a hundred times more than anything we’ve ever done together. It doesn’t fit in our data centres. So we have to put it in the Cloud,” Tom Soderstrom, Chief Innovation and Technology Officer, NASA JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), told IANS during an interaction here.

“The data needs to be worked on for the Indian space agency with several others including NASA. Having it in the Cloud gives us a good place to store, analyse and parse it right for the benefit of humankind,” Soderstrom added.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory is a federally-funded research and development center in Pasadena, California.

“For our science data processing part, we discovered that we could use GPUs (graphic processing units) which were never done before. So, for NISAR, we tried GPUs and realized that it’s better, sometimes 100 times better, based on what you’re doing and overall four times faster,” Soderstrom explained.

ISRO
Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) Chairman K. Sivan, left, and Junior Indian Minister for Department of Atomic Energy and Space Jitendra Singh address a news conference in New Delhi. VOA

The data collected from NISAR mission will reveal information about the evolution and state of Earth’s crust, help scientists better understand our planet’s processes and changing climate, and aid future resource and hazard management.

According to Soderstrom, now they can not only process data much faster but also switch between CPUs and GPUs, whichever is the cheapest.

“Cloud will help us process the data differently. Now, you have lots of interesting data for different spacecrafts. We can now apply machine learning to see trends — both in the science and telemetry data,” said the NASA-JPL executive.

At JPL, everyone has intelligent digital assistant Alexa at his or her desk, helping the staffers organise daily tasks while making sense of intrinsic data-sets.

“An intelligent digital assistant has two pieces to it. It knows who I am and also knows how long I’ve been there, meaning it knows my role. So it can tell me things that I need to know before I even know I need them. You can ask Alexa simple things like when is NISAR launching or how much data it is producing on a daily basis, or where my source data is coming from,” Soderstrom explained.

Alexa can tell you about the mission’s budget. It can tell you about the compute environment and “we can speak to it, type to it or text to it. We apply machine learning to make Alexa smarter and smarter over time”.

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Soderstrom is also bullish on space collaborations between countries to create a better world.

“Interest in space helps everybody. And there’s a lot of commercial interest now. I think if there is a business to be made, commercial space will do that. When there is no business to be made that no one can make money, then the government should do that.

“If space becomes the business, then let the business people do it like Elon Musk began by transporting things to the International Space Station (ISS). JPL, on the other hand, wants to go and do things that have never been done before. So if people can go to the moon and mine it, so be it. Once Mars becomes commonplace, we’re going to Jupiter’s moon Europa in search of life,” elaborated Soderstrom. (IANS)