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User Interface for the Design of Multiagent Autonomous Missions

Award Information
Agency: Department of Defense
Branch: Air Force
Contract: FA8649-21-P-0689
Agency Tracking Number: FX203-CSO2-1824
Amount: $49,967.00
Phase: Phase I
Program: SBIR
Solicitation Topic Code: AF203-CSO2
Solicitation Number: X20.3
Timeline
Solicitation Year: 2020
Award Year: 2021
Award Start Date (Proposal Award Date): 2021-04-15
Award End Date (Contract End Date): 2021-07-14
Small Business Information
7901 Sandy Spring Road Suite 511
Laurel, MD 20707-1111
United States
DUNS: 101537046
HUBZone Owned: No
Woman Owned: No
Socially and Economically Disadvantaged: No
Principal Investigator
 Timothy Woodbury
 (205) 534-9515
 tim.woodbury@emergentspace.com
Business Contact
 Everett Cary
Phone: (301) 345-1535
Email: everett.cary@emergentspace.com
Research Institution
N/A
Abstract

Multi-agent autonomy addresses a significant need for spacecraft operators, from civil to military to commercial space missions. Recently, defense programs have made clear an intention to operate small satellites in geosynchronous orbit (GEO) and beyond in cislunar space (xGEO). At these distances, rendezvous and proximity operations (RPO) conducted by a remote operator become impractical due to communications delays. The autonomy paradigm shifts the bulk of the work to the remote vehicle with limited ground intervention, which not only improves resilience of the system but also enables coordinated activity across multiple spacecraft. However, flight software in general is expensive to develop, and the expense is compounded for autonomous systems that must perform a variety of mission functions. Hand-coding software is a significant bottleneck in terms of both time and developer expertise. Additionally, autonomous space missions benefit significantly from the ability to re-program or re-task agents over their lifetime. It is difficult (and expensive) to pre-engineer all possible contingency scenarios into the flight software. A robust autonomy framework provides a mechanism for re-programming or re-tasking a system. Ideally, the vehicle operator should be able to re-task the vehicle without expert knowledge of the underlying flight software. The proposed Phase I research addresses the need for an autonomy methodology that can be programmed without extensive hand-coding. The proposed approach will assess options for user interfaces (UIs) for control and tasking of autonomous systems to identify key features for software developers and operators. A proof of concept demonstration will be conducted by selecting an existing UI for integration with Emergent’s mature flight software. The demonstration will be based on two existing technologies: 1) Distributed Automation Suite for Heuristic Execution and Response (DASHER) autonomy software; 2) Framework for Reuse of Code Transformation Logic (FRCTL) automatic code generation technology. FRCTL will connect the UI to the DASHER software by ingesting the output of the UI and generating artifacts that are read by DASHER at runtime. The result is an intuitive interface for specifying the behavior of an autonomous system, enabling autonomy missions to be designed and executed without expert knowledge of DASHER. Autonomy has the potential to enable safe multiagent operations and RPO. However, implementing a plan for an autonomous mission in source code is challenging and expensive. Incorporating a UI into the autonomy software is a critical development to enable widespread adoption of the software in operational environments. This research will enable satellite operators to program and retask autonomous vehicles by integrating Emergent’s DASHER and FRCTL software technologies with an existing UI, significantly reducing the software support required over the duration of a mission.  

* Information listed above is at the time of submission. *

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