NASA has identified the development of an autonomously operating spacecraft as a necessity for an expanded program of missions exploring the Solar System. The Autonomous Sciencecraft Experiment (ASE) has been selected for flight demonstration by NASA s New Millennium Program (NMP) as part of the Space Technology 6 (ST6) mission. ASE is scheduled to fly on the US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Techsat-21 constellation in 2006. Tech- Sat-21 consists of three satellites flying in a variable-geometry formation in Earth orbit. Each satellite is equipped with X-band Synthetic Aperture Radar, yielding high spatial resolution images (approx. 3 m) of the Earth s surface. The constellation will fly at an altitude of 550 km, in a 35.4 inclination circular orbit, yielding exact repeat-track observations every 13 days. Prior to full deployment, elements of the versatile ASE spacecraft command and control software, image formation software and science processing software will be utilized and tested on two very different platforms in 2003: AirSAR and EO-1 (described below). Advantages of Autonomous Operations: ASE will demonstrate advanced autonomous science data acquisition, processing, and product downlink prioritization, as well as autonomous spacecraft command and control, and fault detection. The advantages of spacecraft autonomy are to future missions include: (a) making the best use of reduced downlink; (b) the overcoming of communication delays through decisionmaking in situ, enabling fast reaction to dynamic events; (c) an increase of science content per byte of returned data; and (d) an avoidance of return of null (no-change/no feature) datasets: if there is no change detectable between two scenes of the same target, there is no need to return the second dataset.
Lunar and Planetary Science XXXIV; LPI-Contrib-1156