Artificial Intelligence Speeds Up Inspections
Have you ever seen the mass of people watching a rocket launch from the control room on TV or in a movie?
The launch of a rocket is a make-or-break event and mistakes cannot be remedied; consequently when the fuselage is assembled, inspections are carried out with the utmost care. Even though we might say that solid fuel rockets require less preparatory work, up until the M-V it was still necessary to run individual checks on each component of the equipment that controlled flight position and orbit, down to microscopic checks on the tightness of each individual bolt.
“ROSE” the Artificial Intelligence installed in the Epsilon launch vehicle (Photo courtesy of JAXA/JOE NISHIZAWA)
To save such detailed inspection work, a newly developed artificial intelligence called "ROSE" has been installed in the Epsilon fuselage. This is the first attempt in the world to create a rocket that diagnoses its "own physical condition" by itself. As a result, the task of assembling the rocket which used to take 6 weeks for the M-V, can be done in just 1 week for the Epsilon.
The control room after the launch of Epsilon (Photo courtesy of JAXA)
The control room at the time of the M-V launch vehicle takeoff (Photo courtesy of JAXA)
Moreover, the work of the control room at the time of the launch has also been automated under a system referred to "mobile control" which communicates with the computer network within the fuselage. Using two PCs, this system completes the pre-launch checks in just 70 seconds; whereas it used to take many controllers a period of several hours. The days when control rooms were located close to the launch pad, with nearly 100 controllers waiting in the control room, checking each piece of equipment that was connected by code, seem to be in the dim and distance past. For this launch there were only eight people gathered in the control room and there are plans to reduce this to just three people in future. And they don't even need to wear helmets, as control operations can be conducted from a remote, safe location.
The launch costs of Epsilon-1 have been reduced to around 5.3 billion yen, 30% lower than costs at the time of the M-V, due to the incorporation of this new mechanism. And the aim is to make even further reductions from Epsilon-2 onwards, so that by 2017 the costs are around the 3 billion yen level.
Ideal for Launching Small Satellites
An image of Epsilon as it is propelled into outer space (Photo courtesy of JAXA)
This Epsilon launch succeeded in putting the space telescope "Hisaki" into orbit at an altitude of 1,000 km, for it to observe Venus and Jupiter etc., as it circles the globe.
The small Epsilon launch vehicle is capable of launching smallish satellites and planetary exploration craft; and in terms of future space development, it is believed that this fact will be of benefit. This is because small satellites that can be made in a short period of time, without costing a fortune, are becoming the norm as the performance of small pieces of equipment, such as cameras and batteries, steadily improves.
There are not many countries with the science and technology to launch satellites into space. Epsilon is the optimal size to launch small satellites and this will no doubt be a great attraction to emerging nations that plan to embark on space development programs in the future.
The development of the world’s most easily launched rocket makes the distant universe seem more accessible.