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Advanced Exploration Systems Division

NASA Platform for Autonomous Systems (NPAS)

Active Technology Project

Project Introduction

Autonomous operations are critical for the success, safety and crew survival of NASA deep space missions beyond low Earth orbit, including Gateway and Artemis. Future human spaceflight missions will consist of crewed and un-crewed spacecraft that will involve travel to distances beyond LEO, for significant extended periods of time, with limited to no communication with Earth. These facts introduce complex requirements and challenges associated with autonomous operations, which affect both human life as well as the health and life of the spacecraft.  For the past 10 years, Stennis Space Center (SSC) has been developing and evolving an innovative software platform, along with expertise and processes for implementation of autonomous operations.

The current version is called NASA Platform for Autonomous Systems (NPAS).  The main goal with NPAS is to enable reusable implementation of distributed hierarchical autonomous operations foundational capabilities in support of a Gateway and Artemis Program objectives.  NPAS is developed using the G2 platform - a COTS product (a MIT derivative). NPAS provides the foundational technology and processes to affect a paradigm change from traditional “Brute-Force Autonomy” (BFA) towards innovative “Thinking Autonomy” (TA).  NPAS applications encompass comprehensive SysML-like live-models that permit model-based real-time analysis and operations. NPAS uniquely extends the paradigm of model-based systems engineering (MBSE) beyond static models, into live models for real-time thinking autonomous operations that can be rapidly and affordably implemented, deployed, re-used and evolved.

NPAS supports the concept that achieving autonomous operations, beyond developing algorithms for dealing with specific cases that warrant an autonomous response (or reaction), must address implementing strategies for autonomy that are guided by combination of requirements that include, policy, operations procedures, concepts of operations, and mission objectives.  In this context, an autonomous system makes the best use of available resources to achieve the specified mission.

NPAS uniquely addresses and integrates primary functionalities for creating an integrated autonomy solution including: (1) autonomy strategies based on concepts of operation, while taking advantage of system attributes such as redundancy, persistence strategies such as repeating commands, and others; as well as comprehensive (real-time) operational knowledge models (beyond the comprehensiveness of SysML models) –capturing digital twin/digital thread information; (2) Integrated System Health Management (ISHM) strategies, for health assessment,  anomaly detection, diagnostics and effects (FMEA), prognostics, and comprehensive awareness; (3) object libraries and infrastructure of system elements for electrical, mechanical, computer, and communications applications that can be used for a wide range of implementations to create knowledge models of applications (reusable);  (4) infrastructure to create mission operations encompassing plans, schedules, execution and sequences; and (5) infrastructure to develop user interfaces providing comprehensive awareness for users, developers, and management. NPAS represents an innovative approach and technology to rapidly implement and deploy intelligent/thinking autonomous operations.

For FY21, NPAS, will leverage the integrated hierarchical distributed autonomy capability developed in FY20. From these FY20 projects, the NPAS, and corresponding engineering processes, rapidly achieved implementation of intelligent distributed autonomy encompassing a capability that is consistent with the current concepts of operations associated with Gateway.

NPAS top level project goal objectives associated with FY21 commitments includes the following activities:

  • Support autonomous avionics risk reduction test activities that include demonstrating an NPAS VSM, MSM, and SM for a prototype Gateway module
    • Autonomous Avionics Risk Reduction Activities - a developmental project focused on autonomous avionics for deep space human exploration.
    • This activity is being implemented through a Space Act Agreement in combination with a Lockheed Martin Internal Research and Development effort to elevate the maturity of autonomy via command, control, and fault management for Artemis missions at the Gateway. 
    • This Autonomous Avionics Risk Reduction activity
      1. Supports the AES project NPAS efforts to demonstrate a distributed hierarchical autonomy implementation for potential use in Gateway and other elements of Artemis missions, as an efficient, cost-effective, integrated, and unique autonomy software capability
      2. Helps develop technologies required to advance the success of , Gateway and other Artemis Missions in a safe, affordable sustainable way
      3. Demonstrates the ability to rapidly evolve and validate NPAS (advance TRL) as a platform for intelligent distributed hierarchical autonomy capability as a Gateway Vehicle System Manager (VSM)-lite, (Module System Manager) MSM-lite, and system manager (SM) for a prototype for space habitat module including demonstrating integration with VSM.
      4. Coordinates NPAS MSM implementation with Gateway autonomy Interface Control Documents (ICDs), Flight Software Con-Ops, and requirements
      5. Demonstrates interoperability for Gateway VSM/MSM/SM communications and interactions that enable autonomous operations
      6. Demonstrates design & implementation that align with the current Gateway Autonomous System Manager architecture
      7. Leverage the NPAS infrastructure to create schedule and execution task timelines across multiple modules developed by separate teams
  • Advance G2 autonomy software for cFS integration capabilities (G2 SBN Bridge) – Cooperative Agreement with Commercial Partner (Ignite Technologies)
    • Test NPAS integrated solution for NPAS/G2 and Core Flight System (CFS) applications  over the Software Bus Network (SBN) application. This solution involves a custom lightweight application (SBN Bridge), which will work as a middleware between NPAS/G2 and CFS applications running on the same or any other hardware connected via network.
    • Demonstrate G2-SBN Bridge seamless integration  and functionality with CFS core Gateway applications
    • Assess G2 SBN Bridge processes as applied to CMMI Supplier Agreement Management
  • Port NPAS to space flight computing processor and conduct performance testing
  • Working with MSFC Engineering Process Group (EPG) to implement action items identified from gap analysis for NPAS, in preparation for CMMI audit (specifically associated with Level 3 rating).
    • NPAS is partnered with MSFC EPG, leveraging EPG expertise in engineering processes to guide implementation of Software Process Improvement tasks for NPAS as Class A, Safety Critical software, to meet CMMI Dev 2.0 requirements in preparation of audit in FY22
  • AES FY21 Moon to Mars eXploration Systems and Habitation (X-Hab) Academic Innovation Challenge
  • NPAS is also currently in exploratory stages with several NextSTEP partners is in support of providing autonomous systems engineering (e.g., use case analysis, requirements development) and risk reduction activity (e.g., scenario identification, software prototyping, and development/integration testing) for Lunar Terrain Vehicles.
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