Can we make smart space probes?

Our long distance communication issues with probes could be solved by making them reactive.

12th September 2016
Can we make smart space probes? © ESA-C.Carreau

Probes like Rosetta still need to receive their instructions from controllers on Earth © ESA-C.Carreau

One of our biggest problems with space probes and explorer robots is that it takes time to talk to them. Depending on the position of Earth and Mars, it can take anything from four to 24 minutes for a signal to cross the void between them. It currently takes more than 17 hours for a signal to reach our most distant probe, Voyager 1. That may be much to slow to warn it about an impending threat. Adding some intelligence to make them more autonomous would enable them to handle such situations by themselves. An explorer robot could avoid driving into a hole; a probe could reconfigure its electronics and recover from damage. Make them clever enough and maybe one day a probe might be the first Earth entity to hold a conversation with alien life.


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