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:
NPAS software is being cultivated as a paradigm shift in the way NASA develops autonomous operation software that will enable cost effective, comprehensive, “thinking”, and evolutionary autonomy for future space and ground systems.
NPAS has reusable core capabilities
|Organizations Performing Work||Role||Type||Location|
|Stennis Space Center (SSC)||Lead Organization||NASA Center||Stennis Space Center, Mississippi|
|Ames Research Center (ARC)||Supporting Organization||NASA Center||Moffett Field, California|
|Glenn Research Center (GRC)||Supporting Organization||NASA Center||Cleveland, Ohio|
|Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)||Supporting Organization||NASA Center||Pasadena, California|
|Johnson Space Center (JSC)||Supporting Organization||NASA Center||Houston, Texas|
|Office of the Chief Technologist (OCT)||NASA Office|
|Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD)||NASA Mission Directorate|