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Home SCIENCE A look at the tech demo to be tested on Artemis 1

A look at the tech demo to be tested on Artemis 1

This morning, the Artemis 1 flight was supposed to launch on a mission to the moon, but the flight experienced setbacks due to engine problems and was postponed. If and when the massive Space Launch System lifts off, this uncrewed test mission It will boost NASA’s Artemis program, whose goal is to put astronauts on the moon. Orion, the spacecraft atop the SLS used for the test, won’t have humans on board, but three companies — Lockheed Martin, Cisco and Amazon — have teamed up to assemble a technology package that could give NASA additional insights into what what is happening. on board.

The collaboration, which was named the Callisto project, has been four years in the making. It was announced to the public earlier this year. This demo will test whether Alexa can be used to control certain features of the spacecraft, such as lights or hands-free telemetry, and whether Webex can be used to establish a secure and stable connection for video conferencing and more.

Here’s a look at how companies got their star trekready for the tech space inspired.

A beta test in space

For both Cisco and the Alexa team, after being pitched the idea by Lockheed Martin in September 2018, they came up with a game plan and began official work in 2019. Thereafter, both teams came up with designs, worked on problems with hardware and software, and put the finishing touches.

“What I thought was interesting when I started working with Lockheed Martin was that their approach to this project was very customer-centric,” says Justin Nikolaus, Lead Voice UX Designer for Alexa. “Astronauts’ time in space is very expensive, highly scheduled, and they wanted to make it as efficient as possible. They are looking at different ways for astronauts to interact with the vehicle. The voice is one of those mechanisms.”

The goal from the beginning was to make the lives of the end users, the astronauts, easier, safer and more enjoyable. Nikolaus refers to this current attempt as “probably some sort of beta test.”

But the journey of adapting Earth technology for space was filled with many unique challenges.

“At each major milestone, we start to have more hardware. I know modeling, I know machine learning, but space is a new frontier for me,” says Clement Chung, manager of applied sciences at Alexa. “We could plan and guess what it looks like, but as we get different hardware and spacecraft to start testing, a lot of our guesses go out the door.”

[Related: The big new updates to Alexa, and Amazon’s pursuit of ambient AI]

The acoustic sounds in the space capsule, the closed environment of the spacecraft, and what the astronauts would want to say or how they would want to interact with Alexa were all factors they had to consider in their initial design. Additionally, the team had to integrate Alexa and Amazon’s cloud with NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN) and add local processing capabilities to reduce latency.

For starters, the team worked to fine-tune Alexa’s skills and modify them for a different audience in a different environment.

Using spatial sounds provided by Lockheed Martin and taking into account the materials used on board, they retrained their models, since the noise-to-signal ratio was different. Cisco, for this purpose, will use its experience noise cancellation software to solve this challenge.

So Alexa, the voice assistant, had to learn a lot of new knowledge. “Just from a content perspective, I interviewed former astronauts, flight controllers to understand what astronauts want to ask and how to deliver that information,” says Nikolaus. For example, Alexa has access to 100,000 telemetry endpoints in Orion, from the scientific data it collects on its mission, to the temperature and functions in different parts of the spacecraft, to where it is positioned and where it is headed on its flight.

“I had to turn that technical data into an easily digestible sentence for Alexa to respond to the crew members,” says Nikolaus. “There are a lot of nuances to this environment and this specific user that we had to learn and research and make appropriate for the flight that’s going to happen.”

Above the clouds, and beyond the cloud

Beyond this, the team had to resolve major infrastructure issues. The device had to be robust, as it’s not like a repair crew could easily upgrade it. “When you go out into space, you have to consider radiation, you have to consider shock, vibration, temperature control, the components that are in there,” says Philippe Lantin, lead solution architect for Alexa voice service. “You can’t really have batteries, for example. I thought this was a great learning experience for us to design things in a certain way that can be more resilient.”

Once the device was built, they had to figure out the best way to split Alexa’s functions between the cloud and an on-board computer. “We had to figure out how we get the voice of the VIP on the ground into the ship. So we had to create that technology from scratch,” says Lantin. A big focus for the project was creating a stand-alone version of Alexa that doesn’t depend on the cloud. “There is very little bandwidth that we are allowed to use for this project. The total amount of time between the moment you speak and the moment you hear a response could be 13 seconds.”

Callisto uses Amazon’s Alexa and Cisco’s Webex as a commercial technology test for deep space communications. Amazon

Adjusting for bandwidth availability and latency was also an issue Cisco tried to overcome. In addition to video conferencing, Cisco has cameras set up as its eyes around the spacecraft. “Right now we’re shooting megabits of video, and that’s just not a reality with deep space exploration where we rely on NASA’s deep space network,” says Jono Luk, vice president of product management at Cisco.

Amazon engineers determined that using a cloud-based service for Alexa, where it communicates with Amazon servers to provide you with a response, would not be practical in space. So they expanded a feature called local voice control, which can be found on certain devices in the Echo family to tasks like getting the time, date, and smart home commands like turning lights on and off and changing their color. .

While people on the ground are used to being able to ask Alexa to turn on the lights, Alexa in space will do something similar: She has the ability to control connected devices on board Orion. So there is a set of lights that Alexa will be able to control, and the Webex cameras would be used to confirm if Alexa turns the lights on and off.

But Alexa won’t be alone in space all the time. The final question the team is testing is whether Alexa could make certain requests return to a secure cloud on Earth for processing. These would be if the astronauts wanted to ask for sports results or keep up to date on what is happening on Earth. “There are some things you just can’t know ahead of time,” says Nikolaus.

If the tech demo goes well on the uncrewed mission, both companies could envision future applications where this technology could help the human crew on board, even with little things to get started like setting timers, schedules and reminders.

With Cisco, if Webex’s technology could maintain a good connection, then the company would consider testing other features, such as annotating images to provide instructions on how an astronaut should proceed with an experiment in space from the ground, for example. Even more ambitious, Luk imagines that they could integrate more immersive experiences into future tests, such as augmented reality or the hologram function.


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