The first workshop of the KISS study program “Nebulae: Deep-Space Computing Clouds” was held August 26-30, 2019, at the Keck Institute for Space Studies on the Caltech campus. During the first workshop, the participants defined several high impact planetary and small-body mission concepts and high level capabilities enabled by in-situ computing resources orders of magnitude greater than the “minimum required” that is deployed today. A rough roadmap of technical development and investment priorities was defined, scaling from:
- Smart instruments” which have enough storage and processing to accomplish mapping or population-level statistics without impacting the spacecraft;
- Mission-level infrastructure that can conduct multi-sensor fusion, archive instrument data for future downlink, and assist with spacecraft navigation and operations;
- Campaign-accelerating orbiters which are deployed to deep space targets with reserve capabilities to enable an efficient, data-driven discovery process with iterative objectives from mapping, global geodesy, population-level statistics, and onboard continuous change detection.
All these concepts depend on the spacecraft being “Nebula-enabled”, such that there is sufficient storage and computational capacity for large quantities of data to be gathered, pre-processed and selected for optimal downlink to make the most of the bits that the Deep Space Network (DSN) can support. Reserve or excess computational resources, provided by the Nebula, can be dedicated to processing that extra data on-site, augmenting by several orders of magnitude the amount of data immediately available for scientific inquiry.
The second workshop is scheduled for the week of April 13, 2020. This workshop will realize practical models for the broadly applicable Nebula concept. First, we will identify missing science cases from Astronomy/Astrophysics and Heliophysics with a focus on identifying commonalities with the planetary and small-body cases already developed in the previous workshop. In addition, we will establish near-term earth and lunar applications or science opportunities along with technical design references. Upon completion of a technology gap analysis and a review of mission infusion paths and trades, we will determine the technical development roadmap to success, and define the next technical steps (e.g. case studies, technology demonstrations and other follow-on activities). This roadmap will also highlight a set of topics that, if accelerated with additional funding, could materially advance some of the schedule or improve the performance of a planned Nebulae instantiation.