The USC Viterbi School of Engineering has been selected to develop the design software for the F6 satellite.
The F6, a project of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), is fractionated – a cluster of modules orbiting the earth together. The modules communicate with one another like computers on a network.
USC Viterbi’s Information Sciences Institute (ISI) has partnered with Lockheed Martin Corp. on a $5-million project to develop software for its revolutionary concept.
Gordon Roesler, a director at the Information Sciences Institute, is the principal investigator.
“The F6 program will lead to a whole new approach to exploring space,” Roesler said. “Our society gets many benefits from satellites today – GPS, HDTV, Google Earth, weather, climate monitoring. Why can’t a satellite be several free-flying modules instead of a single object? It gives more flexibility in how the system is launched into space. It allows you to add functionality any time you want. It lowers costs and makes the system more robust.”
The software that will form the core of the F6 design uses artificial intelligence to sort through the many choices that designers have to make. Its inventor is Tatiana Kichkaylo, a computer scientist at the USC institute. A specialist in automated planning and scheduling, her work involves finding numerous applications in the engineering of complex systems such as the F6.
The institute already conducts both research and development and educational programs on space vehicles. Its Space Engineering Research Center, co-managed with the Department of Astronautics at USC Viterbi, trains students in the design, assembly and operation of small satellites.
The Space Exploration Corp., or SpaceX, based in Hawthorne, launched CAERUS, one of the research center’s satellites, in May. Another satellite will be launched in 2012. Lucy Hoag, one of the center’s graduate students, helped to develop the software. She will be a key player in the F6 project.
Operations research expert Dorit Hochbaum, who holds the Epstein Family Chair in the Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, will serve as co-principal investigator. She will study scheduling of the mission launches to minimize costs, as well as ways to improve the supply chain and production processes of the satellites.
“With USC’s expertise and with team member Lockheed Martin, the F6 team will help DARPA achieve a very challenging schedule to build and launch F6,” Roesler said. “It will provide another application for ISI’s advanced design software. And there will be new opportunities for students to learn the space business, which is entering a new phase of growth and innovation.”