Researcher and NASA work to help spacecraft avoid floating debris
Imagine an unmanned spacecraft operating in deep space, millions and millions of miles from Earth, but having to rely on scientists “back home” to monitor floating debris and then send instructions across all that distance to take evasive action. Given the time involved to successfully accomplish those tasks, as well as the risk of message disruption, it would be far better for the spacecraft to “think” for itself and make those maneuvers without human intervention to avoid a damaging collision.
That’s the premise behind a research project involving The University of Akron’s (UA) Dr. Jin Wei Kocsis, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, and NASA that utilizes revolutionary blockchain technology to enhance space communications and navigation.
This technology has been most prominently known for its ability to record bitcoin (digital currency) transactions in a completely secure, decentralized manner, eliminating the need for a single database, such as a bank.
Spacecraft that can ‘think’
Wei Kocsis, the recipient of a three-year, $330,000 Early Career Faculty grant from NASA, is leading an effort here to develop a “Resilient Networking and Computing Paradigm” (RNCP) that uses the blockchain technology underlying “smart contracts” (self-executing contracts, allowing for unmediated transactions) from the digital currency world to create spacecraft that “think” on their own – allowing them, for example, to automatically detect and dodge floating debris.
“In this project, the Ethereum blockchain technology will be exploited to develop a decentralized, secure, and cognitive networking and computing infrastructure for deep space exploration,” Wei Kocsis says. “The blockchain consensus protocols will be further explored to improve the resilience of the infrastructure.”
“I hope to develop technology that can recognize environmental threats and avoid them, as well as complete a number of tasks automatically,” she adds. “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.”
More time for analysis
Wei Kocsis hopes this technology will not only allow spacecraft to complete more tasks and collect more data, but also will give scientists – no longer so occupied in anticipating and responding to environmental threats – more time to analyze that information.
Thomas Kacpura, advanced communications program manager at NASA’s Glenn Research Center, says in an interview with ETHNews that this is the first time the center has explored the application of blockchain technology to space communications and navigation. He expects that the project, if successful, “would support decentralized processing among NASA space network nodes in a secure fashion, resulting in a more responsive, resilient scalable network that can integrate current and future networks in a consistent manner.”
“It is expected that the potential is high to contribute to the next generation space networks,” Kacpura continues, “and also allow tech transition of these algorithms for commercial systems.”
Media contact: Alex Knisely, 330-972-7429 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Jin Wei Kocsis