The Michigan Daily - September 12, 2000 - 5A
prof launches experimental space mechanism
,By Michelle Poniewozik
For the Daily
Aeronautical space and engineering depart-
ment Chairman Prof. David Hyland is experi-
,menting with a project to reduce the number of
"baby-sitters" needed to watch over spacecraft.
With the help of aerospace engineering doc-
toral candidate Daniel Scharf, Hyland is work-
-Ing on a project managed by the U.S. Air Force
Research Laboratory Space Vehicles Direc-
torate which, if successful, would produce a
self-reliant spacecraft capable of reacting to
failures and recovering to the greatest extent
possible without human aid.
"We can't just have armies of babysitters sit-
,ting there," Hyland said.
The 60-inch mechanism lifted off on the
STS-106 shuttle Friday with a field of astro-
nauts and gear in preparation for the first-ever
mission aboard the International Space Sta-
Before the mechanism was conceived.
spacecrafts were controlled by a number of
men and women who monitored the space
device on Earth
If something went wrong in space. the
ground controllers generally weren't notified
until too late, Hyland said.
"Man will still make the high-level deci-
sions, but the spacecraft will do all of its own
housekeeping, reacting quickly to unforeseen
problems," he said.
Hyland has been working on the second ver-
sion of the project, called the Middeck Active
Control Experiment. Massachusetts Institute of
Technology tested MACE I in 1995.
"The system learns on the spot," Hyland
said. "It used to take man months or man years
MACE II is a set of algorithms built into a
detector box which behaves like human intelli-
gence. The inbred intelligence writes hardware
directly in orbit, which is designed to react to
changing. circumstances instantaneously.
"It's like a self-tuning piano which is able to
avoid false notes when one string breaks,'.
A second team of researchers, headed by
MIT, is performing a different set of experi-
ments aboard MACE II.
Hyland said he and Scharf have performed
many successful simulated zero-gravity tests in
Albuquerque, N.M., on the exact model which
is orbiting through space today.
But, having success in an actual zero-gravity
environment is "an important milestone to be
crossed," which could potentially "change the
rules of the game," Hyland said.
Victory with the MACEI1 experiment would
mean thoughts that once seemed novel but
were not practical or efficient could become a
reality because of the spacecraft's ability to
take care of itself.
"There will be a big difference in capabili-
ties of control and cost;' Hyland said.
Also, success would enable the space society
to create lighter models with stellar perfor-
mance, thus decreasing general cost. The self-
reliant algorithm system will allow missions to
continue with minimal disruptions due to its
ability to notice and compensate for mishaps.
Hyland said this technology could spill over
into general society, since eventually automatic
control systems such as a thermostat or carbu-
retor all get out of tune. With built-in self-
reliance systems into various instruments.
maintenance costs would he reduced.
Before coming to the University, Hvland
worked in an industrial seatine. Beine a the
University has given Hyland more freedom to
pursue innovative technology, he said.
"It's not profitable and it's risky," yland
said. "What makes me happy about Michigan,
is it could happen here."
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