Adam Hadhazy at TechNewsDaily writes that Japan seeks cost savings as the impetus for smarter rockets, allowing for greater automation in pre- and post-launch diagnostic tests.
If proven successful, a more intelligent rocket could even control its own trajectory.
Currently, rockets are automatic, but not intelligent. They have some degree of automation and are equipped with sensors that trip when malfunctions occur -- but the sensors can neither inform the operator what the problem is no offer a solution.
But the sensors in the Epsilon launch vehicle will interact, operating more like a rudimentary "brain" and less like a series of switches. It will be able to determine the cause of a problem and potentially fix it on-the-fly.
One example of this AI in action could be the regulation of the electrical current that controls the orientation of the thruster nozzle. Where the thruster is pointed determines the rocket's direction, and a surge or other irregularity in the nozzle's electrical current can send the rocket off course. Applying AI in this way is quite similar to its use in electrocardiograms that interpret the human heart's electrical signals in order to evaluate organ function.
JAXA, Japan's aerospace organization, is working to get the three-stage, solid-fuel rocket off the ground by 2013. The price: 3.8 billion yen, or about $46.4 million.
With fewer components, a lighter weight and a dose of intelligence, it may be simpler than ever to launch a communications satellite into space.
Artificially Intelligent Rockets Could Slash Launch Costs [TechNewsDaily]