NASA’s Light-Sailing, Miniature, Nanotechnology-Based Spacecraft Artificial Intelligence Management Patent Application

I was trying to come up with an idea for a fake patent application for April Fool’s day, like a description of something earth shaking, and completely unbelievable. My plan was to provide a detailed description, and then have a link to the “patent application” that was something completely made up.

I come across a lot of unusual patent applications as I’m searching to find what’s been filed by the search engines, like a method of building a better snowman, or creating a crash warning system for cars that learns how to avoid accidents, or even a simple antigravity device, or carrying informational codes in DNA.

I didn’t expect the folks at the Goddard Space Flight Center to come out with a patent application that sounded more like science fiction than science.

The focus of this patent application is on monitoring spacecraft, and determining when one craft amongst a fleet may be experiencing problems and can’t continue with a mission. Here’s a snippet from the patent filing:

In one embodiment, each spacecraft could be a worker in a totally autonomous space mission. The space mission may be configured as an autonomous nanotechnology swarm (ANTS). Each spacecraft in an ANTS may be assigned a specialized mission, much like ants in an ant colony have a specialized mission. Yet, the HNS architecture of each worker in an ANTS may provide coordination and interaction between each HNS that yields performance of the aggregate of the ANTS that exceeds the performance of a group of generalist workers.

More specifically, the SNBFs within HNS 1200 may have a hierarchical interaction among themselves much as the workers do in the entire ANTS collective. Hence, although many activities of the spacecraft could be controlled by individual SNBFs, a ruler SNBF may coordinate all of the SNBFs to assure that spacecraft objectives are met. Additionally, to have redundancy for the s/c mission, inactive workers and rulers may only participate if a member of their type is lost. In addition, a hierarchical worker node can collapse to a non-hierarchical one, if all of the available sub-rulers for that node are lost.

In one particular application of an ANTS, a prospecting asteroid mission (PAM) may survey a large population or surface area targets, such as mainbelt asteroids. The primary objective of a PAM could be exploration of the asteroid belt in search of resources and material with astrobiologically relevant origins and signatures. The PAM may include a swarm of approximately 1000 spacecraft that includes approximately 10 types of specialist workers (e.g. HNS 1200) with a common spacecraft bus that is organized into 10 subswarms of approximately 100 spacecraft each, having approximately 10 specialist HNSs.

In some embodiments, each individual spacecraft in a PAM may weigh 1 kilogram or less with a one meter diameter bodies and 100 meter.sup.2 sails when fully deployed. Each spacecraft may be packaged into a 10 cm.sup.2 sided cube. A swarm of 1000 of these spacecraft may fit into 1 meter.sup.3 weighing 1000 kilograms in deployment. Each spacecraft may also include a solar sail propulsion system that requires no expendable supplies and a small nuclear battery that provides sufficient power to each worker. Thus, the prospecting asteroid mission may be self-directed and can possibly be self-sustaining for tens of years.

Systems, Methods and Apparatus for Quiesence of Autonomic Systems
Inventors: Michael G. Hinchey and Roy Sterritt
Correspondence Name and Address: NASA GODDARD SPACE FLIGHT CENTER
Assignee Name and Address: NASA HQ’s.
US Patent Application 20070073631
Published March 29, 2007
Filed: September 21, 2006

If you’re interested, the technology in the patent application appears to be available for licensing. NASA wouldn’t be playing an April Fool’s Day prank on us, would they?

7 thoughts on “NASA’s Light-Sailing, Miniature, Nanotechnology-Based Spacecraft Artificial Intelligence Management Patent Application”

  1. Pingback: Der 1. April in der SEO Szene
  2. It’s amazing this is where billions of tax payer dollar are spent on stuff like this. NASA is nowhere near this kind of technology yet. Access to space is still an incredibly expensive exercise and nano technology is still decades away from being useful. But I guess this is where all ideas begin and one day in the distant future someone will say glad we patented that in 2007.

  3. Hi Greenman,

    I remember a science class project I did in elementary school where I gathered together as much information as possible about technological spin-offs from NASAs effort to put a man on the Moon, from Teflon to Tang, and as much as I could find inbetween. I don’t mind the government spending money if the effort helps fuel positive innovations and inventions. 🙂

  4. I know I’m way behind on this post, but nowadays if you want to get noticed you should make up a fake Apple patent. People will eat that up like candy on the news sites. Ha! I’m not exactly sure how the whole patent process works though so this probably wouldn’t even work. Maybe you could post a fake specs document for some outrageous spacecraft…??

  5. Hi Patrick,

    I’ve thought about an April Fool’s day patent application in the years since this post was originally published, but never quite got around to it. There are enough unusual ones that actually exist, that I could post about them and people would think they were made up.

  6. That’s funny. Just goes to show that even gigantic companies or organizations can have a sense of humor. I remember that Google had some pretty good ones, I just can’t remember exactly what they were.

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