In the coming decade, the drive to increase the scientific returns on capital investment and to reduce costs will force automation to be implemented in many of the scientific tasks that have traditionally been manually overseen. Thus, spacecraft autonomy will become an even greater part of mission operations. While recent missions have made great strides in the ability to autonomously monitor and react to changing health and physical status of spacecraft, little progress has been made in responding quickly to science driven events. The new generation of space-based telescopes/observatories will see deeper, with greater clarity, and they will generate data at an unprecedented rate. Yet, while onboard data processing and storage capability will increase rapidly, bandwidth for downloading data will not increase as fast and can become a significant bottleneck and cost of a science program.
For observations of inherently variable targets and targets of opportunity, the ability to recognize early if an observation will not meet the science goals of variability or minimum brightness, and react accordingly, can have a major positive impact on the overall scientific returns of an observatory and on its operational costs. If the observatory can reprioritize the schedule to focus on alternate targets, discard uninteresting observations prior to downloading, or download them at a reduced resolution its overall efficiency will be dramatically increased.
We are investigating and developing tools for a science goal monitoring (SGM) system. The SGM will have an interface to help capture higher-level science goals from scientists and translate them into a flexible observing strategy that SGM can execute and monitor. SGM will then monitor the incoming data stream and interface with data processing systems to recognize significant events. When an event occurs, the system will use the science goals given it to reprioritize observations, and react appropriately and/or communicate with ground systems - both human and machine - for confirmation and/or further high priority analyses.