Researcher helps NASA develop satellites that think on their own


Credit: The University of Akron

Following its launch, a satellite headed into deep space can only be controlled, repaired, and interacted with via wireless transmission. But thanks to a prestigious $333,000 Early Career Faculty grant from NASA, University of Akron (UA) Assistant Professor Jin Wei Kocsis will research how to make exploratory satellites smarter so that NASA no longer needs to tell these spacecraft everything they need to do.

Deep space satellites are always moving away from the Earth. This means NASA antennas must keep sending wireless signals further into space in order to reach them. Because of the ever increasing distance, getting messages from a base station to these spacecraft takes more and more time. NASA currently needs to anticipate threats, such as space debris, as well as opportunities for gathering data. Without these predictions, transmissions containing mission critical information would not reach the satellite in time. The more an exploratory satellite can do on its own, then, the less time scientists need to spend predicting what is ahead on its journey.

"I hope to develop technology that can recognize environmental threats and avoid them, as well as complete a number of tasks automatically," Professor Kocsis states. "I am honored that NASA recognized my work, and I am excited to continue challenging technology's ability to think and do on its own."

Kocsis has worked on other a number of other "smart" technology systems in her career, many of which have elements inspired by biological thought processes. Her current research aims to develop digital thought that is data driven and emerges from multiple thought centers, rather than a single central processor. This will allow a satellite to work on multiple tasks at the same time. After creating a prototype, Kocsis plans to run tests and examine the network's performance in simulated situations. Once it passes in-depth testing, she is optimistic it will be ready for use in a deep space satellite.


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