Accelerating Autonomy Workshop Logo

The Accelerating the Use of Autonomy on Robotic Space Missions Workshop will focus on the following questions:

  • What are the impediments to making more use of autonomy on robotic space missions?

  • Which of those impediments apply to which kinds of space missions?

  • In order to overcome those impediments,

    • What has been done in the past that has proven successful?

    • What approaches show promise, and what needs to be done to prove their worth?

    • What further ideas can be proposed?

Those interested in participating are encouraged to suggest answers to any of the above questions and email them in advance to

Answers are also welcomed from those not planning to participate in the workshop.

We provide a detailed list of potential impediments and ways they might be addressed below to give participants an idea of where the discussion may lead.


A detailed agenda and background material is available here.


This workshop will take place within the 2021 SMC-IT conference online - July 26-30, 2021. This workshop will take place as three two-hour sessions on separate days.

  • Monday 26th July 1pm – 3pm PDT
  • Thursday 29th July 1pm – 3pm PDT
  • Friday 30th July 1pm – 3pm PDT

Conference registration is required to attend this workshop (such registration covers the whole conference as well as this workshop) – see SMC-IT .


The Accelerating the Use of Autonomy on Robotic Space Missions Workshop is organised by:

Potential Impediments

To start your thinking, here is a draft list of possible impediments. Are there more? To which kinds of missions do they apply? How can they be addressed?

  1. Verification and Validation challenges:

    • a. Testing autonomy when it is to function in a large variety of situations

    • b. Assessing risk when autonomy in involved

    • c. Developing simulation environments of adequate fidelity

    • d. Reviewing / inspecting autonomy software

    • e. Unknown what coding standards are appropriate for autonomy software

  2. Engineering gaps – lack of knowledge of:

    • a. The appropriate development process (waterfall, spiral, agile, …)

    • b. How to estimate the cost and schedule of developing an autonomy capability

    • c. What metrics to use to track the progress of autonomy development

    • d. How to decompose requirements to the point where they can be implemented

    • e. How to develop models for model-based autonomy

    • f. Autonomy isn’t compatible (or we don’t know how to make it compatible) with the traditional parts of spacecraft software

    • g. How hard it will be to debug autonomy software

  3. Concerns

    • a. Operations teams will not know how to control autonomy

    • b. Operations teams will not know why autonomy behaved the way it did

    • c. Autonomy will achieve its goals in an unintended, unacceptable manner

    • d. Autonomy cannot be relied upon to take the correct actions

    • e. Some forms of autonomy have very varied and unpredictable runtime performance and/or resource usage

    • f. Autonomy developers will be lured away by terrestrial autonomy applications

  4. Infusion barriers

    • a. Proposers of missions avoid considering autonomy because they don’t understand it

    • b. Reviewers of missions that use autonomy don’t understand it, so rate it as too risky

    • c. There is a lack of metrics to support the argument that autonomy is cost effective

    • d. Small missions cannot afford autonomy

    • e. Large missions will not accept the risk of using autonomy

    • f. Autonomy is made to be too mission-specific, meaning it will not be reusable

    • g. Autonomy fails to advance from research into practice

    • h. Autonomy is hard to describe, so does not attract the funding it needs to mature

    • i. Space missions are too infrequent to allow for the continuous advancement of autonomy, leading to talent drain

    • j. Autonomy is not developed in-house because of the expectation that it can be bought from elsewhere

    • k. Autonomy is never the first priority for research and development funding

And here are a few examples of how some of those impediments might be addressed – a goal of the workshop is provide improvements to, and many more of, these answers!

1 a) Guide testing towards scenarios where the system is getting closer to the edge of failure

1 a) Use formal methods to check the correctness of decision algorithms

2 b) Gather together from as many places as possible information on the effort it has taken to develop kinds of autonomy

3 a) Involve operations teams from the start of an autonomy development

3 c) Direct autonomy (e.g., an autonomous planner) to exclude common solutions to see what unusual solutions it discovers

4 f) Insist that autonomy developments be design and made to be reusable

4 i) Collaborate with other areas where autonomy can be infused and operated more frequently and more quickly, e.g., underwater vehicles, maritime automation