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Literature Review: How Technology can Help Humanity and its Future

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The Problem and Its Investigation

Software development is becoming more and more important in our everyday lives. With the spread of technology to banking, public transportation, and even entire university classrooms, software is required to make money, get places, and get an education. However, this ubiquitous requirement for technology would not be satisfied without the technology that exists in space. The discourse community this essay addresses is software developers, and more specifically, software that will be used in space. The importance of the exploration of space increases as the development of society increases. With bigger and better machines and factories that make our lives easier, Earth’s nonrenewable resources are used up.

The exploration of space has become an important idea for the future of humanity. The parasitic nature of humans has increased global warming’s effects, overpopulated countries, and sapped the Earth of a multitude of its natural resources (Dallas, et al.). A solution to this is sending machines to other planets to extract and return resources to Earth. Issues like this and more can be solved with advancements in space exploration, which requires better software engineering.

Statement of the Problem

The purpose of this thesis is to discover ways that software engineering can improve the exploration of space, as well as what problems humanity has that can be solved by a greater knowledge of our galaxy.

The following questions will be investigated:

  • How can software development improve the process of getting information from space?
  • What problems does humanity have that can be solved with improved software in space?
  • Why is the advancement in space software so important for humanity’s future?

Rationale

The use of technology in space has advanced humanity in numerous ways. Communication satellites can send messages from one person to another, no matter the distance between them. Weather satellites observe patters in our atmosphere and help predict daily temperatures and precipitation. Probes and rovers travel through space and on other planets gaining information about the history of our solar system. There is no question about the importance of technology in space, but the limit of possibilities that the technology is capable of can always be broken.

Organization of Research Proposal

A review of literature that discusses the importance of software in space will be presented. The literature reviewed will explore how this software can improve the methods of obtaining data from space, how it can prepare humans for catastrophic situations, and the future ramifications of technology in space. The research done to support these claims will be presented in segmented sections based on topic. A summary of the research and future suggestions insinuated from the research will be discussed in the conclusions section.

Literature Review

This literature review will investigate the ways software in space impacts humans and the possibilities that can be unlocked if said software is more widespread and developed. The spread of software can improve the daily lives of citizens, prevent major catastrophes, and prevent the loss of human lives in a multitude of ways. By being able to test programs, observe historical missions, improve mediums of communication, and enhance autonomous systems, humanity as a whole can grow and prosper. This paper will discuss how this can happen and the methods that can be used to get there.

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Why Does Software in Space Matter?

Ever since the idea of space exploration became a reality, software has been a staple in probes and satellites that have gone to space. A computerized system can sample the processes of a human, which decreases the risk of losing human lives significantly. Over time, less and less humans travel into space, and now almost exclusively software is sent to safely carry out missions. In fact, replacing all space missions with autonomous software that can adapt and overcome challenges is believed to be the best way to prevent human losses and optimize resulting data (Lutz). With Knowledge Based Software Systems, labs can test programs that have the potential to go to space (Narayan and Pandey). Artificial Intelligence can also be integrated into systems in space so they can carry out operations by themselves without input form human overseers. Software, although expensive at times, offers an adaptable and safe solution to gaining information from beyond our atmosphere.

Improving the Process of Getting Information from Space

A crucial step in the process of integrating a program into hardware that is going to be sent to space is testing. A program has to be refined to perfection to reduce computing lag and increase the downlink efficiency. Since testing is so important, a program was created to create, experiment, and simulate potential space missions. The Knowledge Based Software System uses artificial intelligence to study past missions and apply them to future situations (Narayan and Pandey). Another system that uses this ideology to test is the Space Physics Environment Data Analysis System (Angelopoulos et al.). The SPEDAS contains information about every past space mission and offers a place for any developer to build, test, and research possible space mission software. This system increases production of software significantly by not only being able to test and create programs, but also by being available to the public. Allowing anyone access to this NASA-sponsored terminal of testing creates a public format that helps advance the understanding of space and improve the technology we use to collect data from missions.

Efficiency in technology in space does not stop at the creation of it. While the machine is in space, it has to be optimized to send data faster and farther, based on the mission at hand. The most common reason data is lost in space when coming back from a probe or satellite is atmospheric turbulence, or movements in radiation and wind in the atmosphere. Losing any data is detrimental to space programs, so solutions were created to solve the loss of data. One such solution was the Software Defined Space Optical Network, a system that used an information cloud to store and transfer data more reliably (Xing, et al.). The cloud platform assured that the photos taken by satellites would be safely stored and sent back to Earth in a more efficient format. In addition to systematically upgrading the output stream of software in satellites, the computing programs can be streamlined as well. Applying an adaptive redundancy algorithm to existing software allows it to reduce the time it takes to run a command as well as increase the open memory in the system (Gao, et al.). As technology on Earth advances, the systems inside of satellites remain the same unless an astronaut is sent into space to replace them. Therefore, the computers inside the satellites have to be capable of updating and installing new software into themselves. Sending algorithms like the adaptive redundancy software into probes and satellites increases the speed at which data is returned and reduces the amount of errors in the system.

Autonomous Systems

A necessary advancement in space technology is the automation of software. A system can be monitored for a certain amount of time before more important systems take priority, which means that it may no longer receive direct orders and needs to know how to continue gathering and outputting data on its own. An autonomous system is capable of following through on its mission without the oversight of a team on Earth. The satellite Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) was designed to capture images of Earth and send them back to research labs. Multiple algorithms were tested in EO-1 to optimize efficiency by enhancing the system’s ability to sort the pictures it took. When EO-1 was able to prioritize data by itself, the downlink speed increased dramatically, cutting down wasted memory and computing power (Wagstaff, et al.). Autonomous systems like EO-1 have the capability to save lives on Earth. Since EO-1 is programmed to find points of interest on Earth by itself, it was able to locate a volcano that was having a suspicious amount of activity. EO-1 changed its mission to observing the volcano and sending back images of the activity. The active volcano was set near a town that was unaware of the activity and potential danger of an eruption. Once images were received from EO-1, scientists were sent to the town to warn residents. Once the volcano erupted, no lives were lost and the town remained safe. An autonomous system like EO-1 can save the lives of humans by detecting geographical disturbances and warning those areas ahead of time to prepare for potentially catastrophic events (Scott).

Future Applications

The idea of a system being able to work by itself to prioritize data and aspects of a mission offers potential solutions to issues that reach beyond our atmosphere. While an autonomous system could be able to detect volcanic activity, tectonic plate movements, or even hurricanes and tsunamis, there are dangers that lie outside of our world. The Knowledge Based Software System that was previously mentioned was used to create a simulation of a satellite that had the ability to detect, gather samples from, then deflect an incoming asteroid (Narayan and Pandey). Threats to Earth that would be more difficult to prepare for, like an asteroid, can be redirected with software that can autonomously locate and prevent a disastrous situation.

Autonomy can not only assist humans with protective software, but it can also assist on missions to deep space. As a probe travels past planets and moons, pictures are taken and sent back to earth to study. These pictures are often of just the surface or random parts of the planet or moon, but if an autonomous system like the one in EO-1 were integrated, the probe could capture images of short-live science events like storms, dust storms, and volcanic eruptions of other planets and moons (NASA Jet Propulsion Lab). As the probe prioritizes its mission, it will also prioritize the images it is gathering and send back the most important ones, which reduces wasted memory and computing power.

Another way autonomous software can help missions in deep space is repairing software and hardware. As probes in space reach farther distances, communication with them becomes more delayed and difficult to manage and environmental challenges. If a major error were to occur while a probe is orbiting another planet, administrators on Earth would not find out until the probe sent a distress signal, which takes time to reach Earth. Then, a fix would have to be created and sent all the way back to the probe to integrate. However, an autonomous system would be able to fix itself without communication back to Earth. The spacecraft Cassini, while on a mission to Saturn, lost communication with Earth for about an hour due to an error in the software. Instead of losing the craft completely, it was able to automatically reroute all power to an emergency antenna, which it pointed at the sun in hopes for a response from Earth. Communication to the spacecraft was restored within an hour and the mission continued successfully (Lutz). Integrating software that is capable of fixing and upgrading itself is essential to the future of space exploration.

Conclusion

The application of software to space technology is necessary to advancing our knowledge of space and helping humanity. Being able to test software, improving downlink speeds, prioritizing data, and making systems autonomous are all ways that can develop software in space. Advanced software has the potential to warn humans of geographical disruptions and prepare towns and cities for volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, prevent future space missions from failing by being able to activate emergency measures, and detect and deflect dangers from beyond the atmosphere. The widespread use of software eliminates the risk of losing human lives while offering a system that has the ability to be updated and fixed remotely. Every time technology has been used to help humanity is a step towards a more peaceful and prosperous future. As the software that used in spacecrafts evolves, so does the human race.

Works Cited

  1. Angelopoulos, V., et al. ‘The Space Physics Environment Data Analysis System (SPEDAS).’ Space Science Reviews, vol. 215, no. 1, 2019, pp. 1-46. ProQuest, https://proxy.lib.wayne.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/2169573610?accountid=14925, doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11214-018-0576-4.
  2. Dallas, J.A., et al. “Mining beyond earth for sustainable development: Will humanity benefit from resource extraction in outer space?” Acta Astronautica, Volume 167, 2020, Pages 181-188, ISSN 0094-5765, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.actaastro.2019.11.006.
  3. Gao, Xing, et al. ‘Run-Time Error Detection of Space-Robot Based on Adaptive Redundancy.’ Aircraft Engineering and Aerospace Technology, vol. 81, no. 1, 2009, pp. 14-18. ProQuest, https://proxy.lib.wayne.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.proxy.lib.wayne.edu/docview/213775146?accountid=14925, doi:http://dx.doi.org.proxy.lib.wayne.edu/10.1108/00022660910926863.
  4. Narayan, Priyadarshini, and Dhirendra Pandey. ‘Knowledge-Based Software System for Space Exploration.’ International Journal of Computer Science Issues (IJCSI), vol. 11, no. 2, 2014, pp. 181-185. ProQuest, https://proxy.lib.wayne.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1536895853?accountid=14925.
  5. NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. August 2007. https://ase.jpl.nasa.gov.
  6. Lutz, Robyn. ‘Software Engineering for Space Exploration,’ in Computer, vol. 44, no. 10, pp. 41-46, Oct. 2011. doi: 10.1109/MC.2011.264.
  7. Scott, M. ‘Observing Volcanoes Satellite Thinks for Itself’, NASA Earth Observatory, Dec. 2007. http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/VolcanoSensorWeb.
  8. Wagstaff, K., et al. “Cloud Filtering and Novelty Detection using Onboard Machine Learning for the EO-1 Spacecraft.” In International Symposium on Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and Automation for Space (ISAIRAS 2018), Madrid, Spain, July 2018.
  9. Xing, F., et al. (2016) Design and Experimental Demonstration of Software Defined Space Optical Network (SDSON) Architecture Based on Cloud Platform. Journal of Computer and Communications, 4, 7-13. doi: 10.4236/jcc.2016.43002.

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