Ulsterman to revolutionise space at NASA

A Northern Irish computer scientist is helping to change the face of space exploration.

US space agency NASA has been granted a patent on research by University of Ulster's Roy Sterritt.

The lecturer's autonomic software engineering methods are now being used by the US government agency, which is responsible for aeronautics and aerospace research, in their ground-control systems.

A prestigious ceremony was held by NASA in the USA last week to commend Roy's pioneering work.

Along with the space agency's scientist Mike Hinchey, the lecturer of Informatics helped devise programmes that could make small robotic craft self-directing and self-controlling.

The craft can also self-destruct if its behaviour would threaten the safety or technical aims of the mission.

Space scientists are now predicting a future in which swarms of small craft will replace single-craft missions.

Last week in Mitchelville, Maryland, Roy received a NASA Patent Application Award and a Patent plaque at the prestigious annual NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's New Technology Report Program ceremony.

US authorities have granted NASA two patents on the men's work so far, and more are in the pipeline.

It was six years ago that senior scientists at NASA heard Roy speak about concepts that even then seemed in the realms of science fiction.

However, all that has now changed.

Using the principles of "autonomic computing", which attempts to mirror elements of human physiology in technology, Roy has investigated ways of making the next generation of space craft self-managing.

At present, almost every turn they make has to be guided.

Speaking from his Jordanstown lab, Roy said that NASA's recognition "adds a whole new dimension" to his work at University of Ulster which he hoped would "develop further and lead to other innovative work that will make space exploration more secure."

A member of the Computer Science Research Institute, Roy's interest in space related work was triggered partly by science fiction books as a child, and epic films such as Star Wars.

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