In what sounds like a plot from a science fiction, scientists are developing a spacecraft which they say can make its own decision and reason like humans.
British engineers, who are supported by European Space Agency (ESA) in this project, said they are developing control systems that can be used in satellites, robotic exploration vehicles and spacecraft capable of controlling themselves.
The space vehicles will be able to learn, identify problems, adapt during missions, carry out repairs and take their own decisions about how best to carry out a task, they said.
Details of the research have emerged as ESA prepares to launch the second of its Automated Transport Vehicles (ATV2) to deliver supplies to the International Space Station later this month, the Telegraph reported.
The ATV2, which was designed and built by space company Astrium, will follow a pre-programmed route to the space station before using on-board sensors and collision-avoidance systems to dock safely space station.
ESA has also revealed it has plans to build its first spaceship capable of carrying humans into space and returning them safely back to Earth.
Professor Sandor Veres, an expert in autonomous control systems at Southampton University who has been leading the project to develop artificially intelligent control systems, said the technology could eventually find its way into spacecraft used to transport human crew.
He said: “I think to begin with we are going to see it used in robotic, unmanned missions and in many ways will reduce the need for humans to be in space.
“Communication satellites and space exploration missions that currently need around the clock monitoring by human controllers on Earth will be able to operate of their own accord, which would greatly reduce the cost. We are looking at the next generation of vehicles from the ATV.
“We have been able to demonstrate that the prioritisation and decision making that only humans could make before can now be done by machines in a limited knowledge area.”
Professor Veres has been developing the spacecraft control system, called sysbrain, so that it can use natural language to obtain new instructions or new information.
It means the spacecraft’s control system would be able to read documents written in English rather than needing specially programmed code to be uploaded.
He added: “The system could even go onto the web, read up to date information and learn from it.
“We have combined this with human like reasoning so that it has perception about the world, its goals and the ability to prioritise those goals before deciding what it wants to do.”