Darwinian Design - Survival of the fittest spacecraft
Space Science News home
Presenting a paper at the International Conference on Advanced Propulsion held in Huntsville, Ala., Drs. David Noever and Subbiah Baskaran, both of the NASA Marshall Space Sciences Laboratory, discussed the potential of spacecraft reproduction and evolution.
"The next generation of spacecraft will more than likely evolve traits that their parent-ships could not have equaled," says Noever.
Computers can create infinite lists of combinations to try to solve a particular problem, a process called "soft-computing." But you don't want a computer to endlessly spew out random lists of possibilities. Instead, by breeding the most successful operations, the following generations can learn from past mistakes and successively improve. This process shares some features with the biological concept of natural selection, in which the most able organisms survive in the face of environmental pressure and multiply. Survival of the fittest, when applied to computer design, is one of the ingredients for artificial intelligence.
December 3: Mars Polar Lander nears touchdown
December 2: What next, Leonids?
November 30: Polar Lander Mission Overview
November 30: Learning how to make a clean sweep in space
Sign up for our EXPRESS SCIENCE NEWS delivery
A pattern-recognizing computer, for example, could determine whether plastic parts could safely and effectively be substituted for military-grade, space-hardened ceramics. Such a substitution would save money, because plastic parts are 10 times cheaper to produce than high-tech ceramics.
|Other Propulsion Stories this week|
|Apr 6: Ion Propulsion -- 50 Years in the Making - The concept of ion propulsion, currently being demonstrated on the Deep Space 1 mission, goes back to the very beginning of NASA and beyond.
April 6: Far Out Space Propulsion Conference Blasts Off - Atoms locked in snow, a teaspoon from the heart of the sun, and the stuff that drives a starship will be on the agenda of an advanced space propulsion conference that opens today in Huntsville.
April 7: Darwinian Design - Survival of the Fittest Spacecraft
April 7: Coach-class tickets for space? - Scientists discuss new ideas for high-performance, low-cost space transportation
April 8: Setting Sail for the Stars - Cracking the whip and unfurling gray sails are among new techniques under discussion at the 1999 Advanced Propulsion Research Workshop
April 12: Reaching for the stars - Scientists examine using antimatter and fusion to propel future spacecraft.
April 16: Riding the Highways of Light - Science mimics science fiction as a Rensselaer Professor builds and tests a working model flying disc. The disc, or "Lightcraft," is an early prototype for Earth-friendly spacecraft of the future.
"You just have to figure there's some study time for these kinds of long-term missions," says Noever.
But after a while, the craft will have read through all of its 'books' and there will be nothing left to study. And those books will become outdated long before the spacecraft completes its mission. Earth-based signals can be sent to the craft to update its library, however. Just as you can download program updates off the Internet for your computer, scientists can send new software and new hardware configurations to the distant spacecraft. In this way, the spacecraft can continue its education via correspondence course.
"One surprise in developing this technology was the amount of elbow-room we have to generate improvements," says Noever.
By sending the spacecraft new information, improvements can be made in on-board memory, bandwidth, power and control features, and flight software codes. This earth-to-spacecraft link works two ways, so scientists can download the spacecraft's 'homework' and use it to design better spacecraft.
Body by Nature, Spacecraft by NASA
Nature has been evolving for millions of years, fine-tuning and improving its designs through the process of natural selection. Scientists are looking toward nature to improve spacecraft design, so the results of Earthly evolution may someday find themselves having to adapt to other worlds as well.
For instance, the common dandelion evolved to aptly handle problems in redundancy and navigation. Just as dandelion seeds float away and plant themselves far from the source flower, the 'dandelion' spacecraft would have a pod land on a planet and explode with thousands of tiny rovers.
Right: The future of spacecraft design? Photo Credit: Roger Stockton, © 1998.
Noever and Baskaran presented their paper, "Darwinian Spacecraft: Soft Computing Strategies and the Breeding of Better, Faster, Cheaper Missions," at the Tenth Annual International Conference on Advanced Propulsion. The conference runs from April 5th through the 8th at the Bevill Conference Center Hotel in Huntsville, and combines researchers from Marshall Space Flight Center, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA).
sign up for our express news delivery and you will receive a mail message every time we post a new story!!!
|For more information, please contact:
Dr. John M. Horack , Director of Science Communications
|Author: Leslie Mullen
Curator: Bryan Walls
NASA Official: John M. Horack