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NASA's CASPER plays Captain Kirk

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The undeployed Three Corner satellite stack


NASA boffins have declared their intention to hand over control of three satellites to artificial intelligence software.

The project, planned for 2002, will see the Continuous Activity Scheduling, Planning Execution and Replanning (CASPER) software take full responsibility for the operation of the miniature satellites. These will be launched from the space shuttle as part of the Three Corner Sat mission.

According to Dr. Steve Chien of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory: "The onboard software performs the decision-making function for the spacecraft. Like a brain that uses inputs from the eyes and ears to make decisions, this software uses data from spacecraft sensors, such as cameras, to make decisions on how to carry out the mission."

The aims of the Three Corner Sat experiment include stereo imaging. This is one area in which CASPER might prove its worth. Previously, all image data has been transmitted to mission control, regardless of quality, but the CASPER software will have "the ability to make real-time decisions based on the images it acquires and send back only those that it deems important. This will eliminate the need for scientists to preview thousands of low-priority images and let them focus on only the high-priority data transmitted back."

CASPER will have roughly three months to demonstrate its leadership potential. A successful outcome could ultimately lead to its use in autonomous planetary rovers and robot aircraft.

Should, however, the system prove temperamentally unsuited to the heady rush of total power, ground controllers will retake the mission helm. ®

Related links

The full NASA press release
More information on CASPER
The rundown on the Three Corner Sat mission

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