Emergent Awarded Phase II NASA SBIR for Autonomy Flight Software

Emergent to Prototype Flight Software for Onboard Task Planning and Plan Management in Cislunar and Deep Space Environments

March, 2022

Emergent Space Technologies, Inc. (Emergent) was awarded a Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract with NASA to prototype flight software for onboard task planning and plan management. This work supports the need of government and commercial space operators for greater autonomy in supporting distributed missions in challenging environments, for example, cislunar and deep space. According to Dr. Timothy Woodbury, Principal Investigator for the project, “Migrating planning from ground systems to space systems enables spacecraft to respond immediately to unplanned data collection opportunities without first contacting a ground station. This will reduce latency and operational costs, as well as improving overall performance.” This project will support both commercial Earth-observing missions as well as government missions, such as NASA’s Luna Net infrastructure and the Space Development Agency’s (SDA’s) National Defense Space Architecture (NDSA).

The prototype software is called Adjutant. It includes native planning capabilities that can be run on embedded systems, as well as a plan management framework for compatibility with external planners. Adjutant improves on existing commercial offerings in three critical ways. First, our technical approach can generate optimal solutions for fleet-scale operational planning, enabling long-term independent planning and operation for remote distributed space missions operating in Cislunar space and beyond. Second, our approach clearly separates deliberation functionality into independent applications with clearly defined roles. This separation simplifies development and testing and improves our ability to incrementally integrate our software into an end user’s operational system. Third, Adjutant is designed to incorporate plan information from external sources, giving the end user flexibility to integrate our software with existing legacy planning processes.

Adjutant complements Emergent's Commander flight software suite to enable a complete cycle of planning, execution, and goal-oriented feedback to be executed onboard an embedded system. Commander provides reconfigurable autonomy for management of flight software applications, or “apps”. In conjunction with other Emergent apps, Adjutant and Commander enable spacecraft to independently plan and conduct missions that include complex tasks such as station-keeping, navigation, and fault detection, isolation and recovery. These capabilities facilitate long-term operation with minimal human intervention and are an enabling technology for planned constellation missions in remote locations.