Callisto, or Webex and Amazon Alexa 80 km from the moon’s surface

On the subject of returning to the moon, all those who support NASA and friends have been closely following the Artemis I mission. Footage taken from inside the ship showed a large blue panel with a screen and speakers. Cisco invited several journalists and bloggers to talk about it.

Callisto Tech Demo:

The Callisto communications module is a Lockheed Martin-led project that has invited Cisco and Amazon to collaborate on it. The idea was to create a test module built mostly from commercially available elements, adapt commercial software to run in space, and integrate the whole thing with the Orion spacecraft.

As it turns out, the blue panel hides an Apple iPad tablet with Cisco Webex teleconferencing software and an interface that can display some of Orion’s operational parameters. The second device is the Amazon Alexa smart speaker, thanks to which you can control some subsystems of Orion with your voice, such as lighting.

Both devices, before being integrated into the Callisto module, were first tested on Earth for resistance to cosmic radiation, and the tests turned out to be very promising. As a result, a large blue panel took center stage in the Orion cabin. Of course, its experiments were conducted “around” Earth, the Artemis I mission was unmanned, and the astronaut depicted in the photos is the pseudonym “Commander Campos”.

Communication and ergonomics

During a panel discussion with Jono Luke, the Cisco employee delegated to oversee the project, he told us a little bit about the challenges facing these types of devices. Problems arise, for example, with signal delay caused by huge distances. There was also a bit of talk about what Callisto would ultimately be, and how this mission was used educationally to enable students and apprentices to operate the system.

Both Webex and Alexa are designed to work on NASA’s limited Deep Space Network, not the Internet. Short communication windows, much lower communication bandwidth required a number of optimization actions by each company. Callisto is designed by Lockheed Martin to be the core of a system that will allow comfortable communication between astronauts not only with the crew and the ship, but also with their families. Various aspects of sound control of some subsystems of the spacecraft are also being tested.

cosmic radiation

I was most interested in the above aspect of equipment resistance to the radiation conditions in space. On its way to the Moon, Orion would have to pass through the Van Allen belts, that is, regions of increased cosmic radiation (mostly protons and electrons there) and away from the magnetosphere that protects Earth.

John Luke confirmed that no disturbing signals were recorded from the module during the mission, while all the electronics will now be disassembled and examined in terms of how the mission affected the state of individual systems. This will allow an assessment of the equipment’s potential life, fault tolerance, and whether special radiation shielding is needed in the target devices.

Luke emphasized that both commercial devices used in the test module were not additionally prepared, although the panel itself, in which they were integrated by Lockheed Martin, certainly presents some level of such protection. He added, however, that in the future, devices of this type will not only be installed in the console, but will be “scattered” around the ship, and such data is necessary.

Not for HAL

In the part where the conversation was about the effects of space missions on ordinary people, I managed to ask if the creators of Callisto were not tempted to flirt with pop culture, giving the panel a form of HAL 9000 from the movie “A Space Odyssey”. “. Jono jokingly answered that it will probably be a little scary for many people, at least for those who are familiar with the film.

In summary, the meeting was interesting and showed the direction Lockheed Martin would like to take Orion’s ergonomics development. Personally, I’m very interested in how the commercially available devices survive exposure to increased doses of radiation (checking its levels is one of the main aspects of the Atemis I mission) and whether they will be suitable for this type of application without additional treatment;

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