Spacecraft autonomy is a multidisciplinary effort to build systems that keep spacecraft “on target” under a range of diverse operational conditions.
Spacecraft that operate millions or even billions of miles from home -- where radio signals from Earth can take hours to reach them -- must be programmed to check for and correct problems until operators can help. Most APL missions are enabled by complex autonomy systems that protect our spacecraft when human intervention is neither feasible nor timely. APL autonomy engineers work with other spacecraft system teams to identify failure modes, negotiate status of spacecraft health and identify commands a spacecraft would execute autonomously. APL flight autonomy engines are designed to accept new behaviors without a spacecraft reboot -- allowing our teams to customize these systems as we learn more about the spacecraft's operational environment and adjust to changes as our spacecraft age through (and often beyond) their designed lifetimes.
The practice of autonomy is robust, and it evolves rapidly. Our team constantly evaluates new tools, techniques and algorithms to increase the level of autonomous actions in our spacecraft to enhance mission-enabling tasks, such as detecting cyber intrusions, networking spacecraft constellations, impacting a nearby asteroid or flying on another celestial body.