How Self-healing Spacecraft Will Work

Living Wires

During long space missions, maintaining the health of onboard computers and electronics systems will be just as important as maintaining the exterior shell. NASA is working on a new type of system that will give self-repairing capabilities to the internal wiring of the spacecraft. This new evolvable hardware will be able to monitor the electronics and correct systems before malfunctions become a crucial problem.

Initially, a self-repairing flight system would be used in airplanes before being moved to spacecraft. At the NASA Aviation Safety Program, based at the Langley Research Center, researchers are working on this kind of self-healing computer system. In 1999, the United States space agency reported that it could have commercial systems available by 2004. The idea here is to create a self-healing computer system that uses a cluster of low-power processors that are loosely coupled to spacecraft systems via wireless links.

These health management and control upset management systems could detect, diagnose and prevent abnormalities before problems become uncorrectable. The computerized health management system will monitor vital functions, help prevent and reduce any malfunctions, enhance a flight crew's ability to respond to problems and reduce a pilot's workload during an emergency. Control upset management would include advanced detection and prediction algorithms, display formats, pilot cueing and guidance and control methods to prevent accidents when failures occur. Both of these systems could work for aircraft and spacecraft.

In the future, spacecraft could possibly take us to the edge of our solar system and beyond. If that is to be possible, we will need spacecraft with built-in safeguards. These smart-spacecraft will have to be able to sense and react to potential problems that might go unseen by their human passengers.

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