Codesign and Development of Autonomous Systems for Persistent Operations
Space operations are on the cusp of a revolutionary new operational paradigm that leverages modular systems and recurring robotic visits to “persistent platforms” enabling platform assembly, maintenance, repair, and enhancement. Persistent platforms require persistent operations, and persistent operations require a paradigm shift in how we approach system design, development, and operations. Persistent platforms include, but are not limited to, telecommunication platforms; Earth-observing science platforms; deep space telescopes; and planetary surface systems that support missions such as human outposts, science stations, and in-situ resource utilization systems. These persistent platforms will be autonomously and robotically constructed, maintained, enhanced, and reconfigured in situ as needed to prepare for and support human occupation, maintain critical infrastructure, upgrade with new technology, adapt to changing mission needs, etc.
Beyond the platforms themselves, integrated human-machine and autonomous machine-machine systems for mission planning and execution will be critical to NASA's success in building a lunar economy and a persistent presence on Mars. To achieve this, we must develop innovative function-allocation strategies and solutions that move us away from the traditional human-centric approaches to mission management (with machines as decision-support tools) and toward approaches that empower machines to make decisions. This could be instantiated as teams with humans and machines as equal partners as well as machine-only teams capable of collaborating and making decisions with and without human input. Co-design of the robotics, autonomy, and human-machine function allocation will be critical to achieving intuitive and efficient processes. For example, retrofitting a function-allocation approach onto an autonomous robot built without the system in mind will likely produce a suboptimal product. History has proven that bolting the human operator or teammate onto a system built without roles and responsibilities in mind often fails in the field because invalid assumptions have been made about human interaction, crew preferences, exposed/hidden information, and real-world operations.
To achieve the required performance at a system level, subsystems must be co-designed with a mission(s) in mind and evolve cooperatively during the development process to achieve an optimized system. Robotics systems that retroactively add autonomy will not be optimal systems. Autonomous systems built without a robot and/or mission in mind will not achieve peak performance. This optimization includes the human as manager, operator, inhabitant, etc., functioning as part of a human-machine team with consideration given to function allocation across multiple-asset systems that may change over the lifetime of a mission or across mission phases. For example, the function allocation required for dormant operations of a habitat versus crew occupancy will utilize the same systems but likely not the same roles and responsibilities across team members. Further, teaming is a paradigm shift away from traditional decision-support tools (DSTs) that assist human decision making to machine systems that are capable of and empowered to make decisions (within constraints) in the absence of human intervention or with human supervision.
This subtopic seeks integrated robot/autonomy/human solutions for mission planning, mission execution, and function allocation for systems ranging from full autonomy with oversight to supervised autonomy to human-in-the-loop teaming. Human-machine teaming elevates the machine from a decision-support tool for humans to use while making decisions to a member of the team who is empowered to make decisions, capable of communicating rationale and situation awareness (SA) with other team members (whether human or machine), and participating in collaborative decision making and operations.
Proposal elements of interest include, but are not limited to:
- Autonomous systems for dexterous robots.
- Mission-planning tools.
- Modeling and simulation environments for gaming out mission scenarios and function allocation.
- ModSim for design, development, test, evaluation
- Digital Twin
- Human-machine teaming and/or modalities of human-machines interfaces (HMIs).
within the context of a design reference mission (DRM) such as construction and/or operation of a large space telescope, lunar infrastructure, and lunar habitats/safe havens, where "construction" is a broad term that includes assembly, repair, maintenance, cable routing, cable mating/demating, etc.
Expected TRL or TRL Range at completion of the Project: 1 to 4
Primary Technology Taxonomy:
- Level 1 10 Autonomous Systems
- Level 2 10.3 Collaboration and Interaction
Desired Deliverables of Phase I and Phase II:
Desired Deliverables Description:
A minimally successful Phase I proposal should deliver a feasibility study of the proposed subsystem, including modularity assessment and expected interoperability with external systems, where the subsystem could be:
- Defined ConOps
- Mission planning tools
- Mission/asset prognostic capabilities
- Autonomous robotic systems capable of operating under multiple human-machine function allocation assignments
- Innovative approaches to human-machine teaming and/or modalities
and must include evidence of codesign/development with related subsystems around a specific concept of operations. Phase I deliverables that include a demonstration are preferred.
A Phase II deliverable should include a working prototype (hardware and software) and associated system-level feasibility study focused on a specific design reference mission. End-to-end demonstrations via software- and/or hardware-in-the-loop simulation environments are preferred.
State of the Art and Critical Gaps:
The state of the art (SOA) for mission planning and operations is human-centric with machine DSTs for scheduling and monitoring. The current paradigm enables the addition of the DSTs into the traditional planning and operation model but was not designed and has not evolved with delegation of responsibility and decision-making authority away from the human.
There is no SOA or standard operating procedure for human-machine teaming (HMT) and mission planning. There are currently abstract concepts that are a challenge to instantiate as a system.
Relevance / Science Traceability:
This scope represents an enabling approach to technology development for persistent reliable operations for in-space and on-surface autonomous systems. Examples include robotic in-space servicing, assembly, and manufacturing (ISAM), on-orbit Gateway (science utilization, logistics management, payload handling, maintenance, etc.), as well as robotic manipulation in support of lunar surface infrastructure assembly and robotic in-space assembly and outfitting.
Autonomous manipulation, inspection, and utilization, supported by the perception technologies in scope, directly support NASA’s Moon-to-Mars objectives to “(LI-4) Demonstrate technologies supporting cislunar orbital/surface depots […] and support systems needed for continuous human/robotic presence,” and “(OP-9) Demonstrate the capability of integrated robotic systems to support and augment the work of crewmembers on the lunar surface, and in orbit around the Moon.”
- Doggett et al., "Persistent Assets in Zero-G and on Planetary Surfaces: Enabled by Modular Technology and Robotic Operations," AIAA SPACE Forum, 2018. https://arc.aiaa.org/doi/pdf/10.2514/6.2018-5305
- "Digital Twins and Living Models at NASA," ASME Digital Twin Summit, Keynote Address, 2021.
- "Serious Gaming for Building a Basis of Certification for Trust and Trustworthiness of Autonomous Systems," AIAA Aviation Forum, 2018.
- Kelley et al., "A Persistent Simulation Environment for Autonomous Systems," AIAA Aviation Forum, 2018.
- "OSAM: Autonomy and Dexterous Robots," NASEM DMMI Workshop, 2021.