Enabling NASA Communication in Deep Space is New Mission for Houston’s TRACLabs

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Layered Artificial Intelligence and sophisticated automation technologies are tools of the trade for Houston team.

TRACLabs, a Houston company that has been on the forefront of robotics, automation and Artificial Intelligence for more than 20 years, has been awarded a two-year, $600,000 contract to continue development of an advanced scheduling system interface that will enable NASA mission managers to efficiently schedule communications on NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN) in support of space exploration missions.

The TRACLabs project, known as Intelligent Agents for Scheduling Space Communications, is funded by NASA and will be developed in conjunction with Jet Propulsion Laboratories (JPL).

TRACLabs, which is responsible for the development of intelligent automation technologies that have been used to create other sophisticated layered intelligence software environments and robotics for NASA, will use their Distributed Collaboration and Interaction system (DCI) to create the interface. When complete, the interface will manage multi-mission schedules for use of bandwidth in the DSN to ensure that the hundreds of agency representatives who will be involved with future NASA missions can accomplish their objectives.

“The new exploration initiatives within NASA multiply the number of customers and missions that must be supported by NASA’s Space Communications networks. In preparation, the agency is expanding its infrastructure, but they also must create cost effective ways to maximize the available architecture. We will create advanced communications request software that will support the Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) by allowing users to both unequivocally specify their requests and also iteratively get those requests integrated with those of other users in increasingly crowded bandwidths,” says Pete Bonasso, chief engineer in charge of Intelligent Control for TRACLabs.

During the first phase of this project, a six figure deal completed earlier this year, the TRACLabs team studied the user schedule management problems of the Deep Space Network and built a model based on input from the DSN schedule management teams. Through that project they proved the viability of the DCI to create scheduling agents for schedule management representatives that could interface with existing space communications and other advanced automation. This eliminates or dramatically reduces the number of scheduling conflicts, as well as the need for human interaction to resolve scheduling issues, Bonasso says.

The next phase of the project will allow the TRACLabs team to use DCI to create personal software agents for each user based on the specific requirements for mission communications. The intelligent agents will prepare requests, evaluate alternatives based on mission knowledge, and move them all the way through the scheduling process.

The agents, which Bonasso describes as being much like avatars or surrogates that have until now been seen primarily in science fiction movies or video games, are designed with the specific mission and user needs built in. The DCI system will allow automation of resource requests, will investigate alternative scheduling resolutions when conflicts arise, and will solve conflicts based on the mission’s specific schedule and time resource needs. Pre-determined preferences will fuel the interface, dramatically reducing the need for peer-to-peer conflict resolution.

During this phase of the project, TRACabs will work with JPL to expand their prototype software to support the full range of NASA communications scheduling activities for the Deep Space Network. The software development also will cover complex scheduling conflicts that involve communications that impact more than one mission.

“Our work with NASA and layered artificial intelligence has become more important as the number of space missions has increased. With numerous missions planned for the coming years, including manned Moon exploration, the Mars Science Laboratory, the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous spacecraft, and the Solar Pioneer, NASA has significantly increased their future need to communicate with spacecraft and personnel,” Bosanno says.

For more information on robotics, Artificial Intelligence, advanced automation or the DCI, contact TRACLabs at 281 461 7886 or visit us online at http://www.TRACLabs.com

About TRACLabs
Since 1986, TRACLabs has been a leader in robotics and automation, pioneering the science of Artificial Intelligence and robotics to advance development of sophisticated automation for government and industry. The company’s president and CEO, Dr. David Kortenkamp, recently co-authored a NASA Exploration Team report on the State of the Art in space robotics. Representatives of TRACLabs are available to discuss the specifics of their work in automation and robotics with representatives of the media. Photographs or other graphic depictions of their work are also available for use by media representatives. For more information, contact David Kortenkamp.


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