Managed Intelligent Deconfliction and Scheduling for the Air Force Satellite Control Network (AFSCN)
Scheduling and Deconflicting AFSCN Communications
The Air Force Satellite Control Network (AFSCN) coordinates hundreds of satellite communication requests from various users every day. MIDAS (Managed Intelligent Deconfliction and Scheduling) is a tool for rapidly scheduling and deconflicting AFSCN satellite communication requests. These needs were met by teams of highly trained and experienced schedulers manually checking every schedule request that is received. Approximately half of all requests require adjustment to remove conflicts. MIDAS automates much of this, allowing schedulers to apply their expertise where it is really needed. It accomplishes this with a two-stage process that first shuffles tasks within their defined constraints before carefully applying a user-definable set of business rules that allow certain constraints to be relaxed when necessary. The system provides a familiar, user-friendly interface modeled on legacy Electronic Schedule Dissemination (ESD) systems to facilitate comparison and to allow users to switch from one interface to the other with relative ease. It runs on inexpensive consumer hardware and communicates with legacy systems via a well-defined plain-text file format: raw scheduling requests are imported to MIDAS, and scheduling results can be exported back to legacy tools. This tool is useful for rapidly deconflicting real-world scheduling requests but also has possible applications to planning (what-if scenarios) and training.
Leveraging Human Knowledge and Expertise to Reduce the Burden on Human Schedulers: An Artificial Intelligence Solution
Satellite communications scheduling is a laborious process requiring many schedulers—each with years of training and experience—to meet the current needs of the AFSCN. An artificial intelligence (AI) tool for automatically scheduling satellite contacts, designed to incorporate the experience, insights, and expertise, and mimic the thought processes, of human schedulers–including incorporating a unique precedence-based capability to “bend the rules” the way veteran schedulers do–will take much of the burden off of these human schedulers, allowing scheduling to scale along with AFSCN capabilities. Additionally, an automated scheduling tool allows planning at a level not previously possible. A viable schedule can be assembled in a matter of minutes in order to assess the impact of possible outages, events, expansion of equipment, etc. With only a few minutes of processing, MIDAS is able to deconflict a high percentage of tasks in any given day. This has obvious advantages for current AFSCN operations. MIDAS can eliminate much of the repetitive work involved in scheduling and allow schedulers to focus on difficult problems.
Future versions of MIDAS could also improve response time in the event of a mission change or emergency. Additionally, this tool provides an inexpensive way to explore hypothetical scenarios, allowing strategic exploration of the impacts of various changes at a very high level of detail.
Rapid Scheduling and Deconfliction: The MIDAS Touch
Two MIDAS systems are currently deployed to 22SOPS at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado Springs for testing and verification. Users can export data from their legacy scheduling tool (ESD 2.7x) to MIDAS, where they can generate a schedule solution with most conflicts resolved in about 5 minutes. Air Force results demonstrate that this intermediate result can be fully deconflicted by working with Aurora’s suggestions in about 30 minutes by a single scheduler (compared to approximately 9 person-hours required previously). Through further refinement, we expect the number of initial conflicts resolved to increase and the manual deconfliction required to be reduced even further. We expect MIDAS to be useful in current scheduling operations and to be one component of 22SOPS’s scheduling technology in the future. Because MIDAS is not tightly integrated with any one system, it can be customized to interoperate with any system, including the current legacy ESD system and the planned ESD 3.0.
With an increasingly demanding AFSCN, with both capabilities and requests increasing, MIDAS will ease the labor-intensive process of scheduling satellite contacts, maintenance, and other related tasks. It will also provide a means for highly detailed analyses of the possible impact of various changes in the AFSCN landscape (an unexpected outage or a planned reduction or expansion of capacity), without requiring humans to deconflict the schedule for each possible contingency.
Scheduling Contacts Between Satellite Operations Centers (SOCs) and Satellites in Orbit
Facilitating “Lights Out” Operations
Stottler Henke built on the success of MIDAS to develop a new system for the Air Force to improve the process of scheduling contact between Satellite Operations Centers (SOCs) on the ground and satellites in orbit. The legacy process for selecting supporting resources (“supports”) largely consisted of manually selecting from a list of hundreds of available time segments per day and did not consider the scheduling needs of other missions at the same SOC. Once the desired supports are selected for each mission at a given SOC, they are delivered to the 22nd Space Operations Squadron (22 SOPS) for global deconfliction across all SOCs. This resulted in frequent conflicts and the need to manually adjust schedule requests, often requiring adjustments and approval by the originating SOC.
This process is currently handled by crews operating 24/7 to manage satellite telemetry, tracking and commanding (TT&C). The goal of this effort is to reduce the required manpower and eventually transition to “lights out” operation at the SOCs.
A Fully Integrated Solution
Synth improves scheduling efficiency by intelligently scheduling the available supports for each mission automatically while also considering a wide range of constraints that are currently cross-checked manually for each situation. Additional improvements integrate with Stottler Henke’s related system, MIDAS, the intelligent scheduling agent that deconflicts these schedule requests and includes a unique precedence-based capability to “bend the rules” as the human schedulers do. MIDAS is currently being transitioned into operational use at the 22nd Space Operations Squadron (22 SOPS) to globally deconflict the individual SOC schedule requests. Synth will selectively transmit additional scheduling metadata and constraints such that MIDAS can both make more informed suggestions when a conflict arises and also automatically make changes to the global schedule without always needing to wait for manual approval from each SOC.
Stottler Henke worked with a dedicated satellite operations center (the RDT&E Support Complex (RSC)) at Kirtland AFB in Albuquerque, NM to gather requirements and test the efficacy of the Synth system to generate a schedule that satisfies the requirements across multiple missions.
A Wealth of Scheduling Applications
Synth is a powerful tool that can be applied to a variety of scheduling situations. It is a tool for preprocessing scheduling requests to lighten the workload of schedulers—as capabilities, capacity, and request volume increase, automation in this area will become a must. Synth can be used as an excellent training tool, allowing a trainee to work without an actual ESD terminal, and provides additional benefit by suggesting possible solutions to inexperienced schedulers who may not be familiar with all possible moves. Additionally, the flexibility of Synth’s design enables rapid adaptation to changing environments and conditions, making it ideal for analyzing what-if scenarios, e.g., to explore the consequences of a particular outage or failure. The Synth scheduling component is loosely coupled with its user interface and can be easily extended to support other file formats or interfaces.
Synth enhances MIDAS, Stottler Henke’s intelligent scheduling system for automatically deconflicting AFSCN schedule requests, across all SOCs. By taking advantage of the scheduling metadata and constraints that Synth uses to identify valid supports for the schedule requests generated at each individual SOC, MIDAS will be able to deconflict requests while remaining mindful to SOC preferences—with the overall goal of improving the deconfliction process. Furthermore, development of Synth is directly applicable to a related effort, RAPTOR, with the goal of developing a distributed, intelligent, cooperative AFSCN mission planning and scheduling system to improve the overall scheduling process and provide greater sharing and availability of information and knowledge. This coordination lays the foundation in support of the MMSOC vision to reduce manpower and transition towards “lights out” operation at each SOC.
The most direct benefit of this effort is, of course, providing intelligent automation for the AFSCN and, more specifically, individual SOCs.
Beyond the Air Force: Additional Government, and Commercial Applications
In addition to the usefulness of this technology to the Air Force, there exists strong commercialization potential for Synth with NASA and private sector satellite operators. Additionally, there are many similarities between communication scheduling and sensor scheduling. This effort resulted in additional scheduling algorithms that have been incorporated into our existing scheduling tool Aurora.
A Distributed, Intelligent, Cooperative AFSCN Mission Planning and Scheduling System
Rfi detection And Prediction Tool, Optimizing Resources (RAPTOR) is an enhancement of Stottler Henke’s intelligent scheduling tool, Aurora, for improving Air Force satellite scheduling processes and providing greater sharing and availability of information and knowledge among SOCs, automating the entire AFSCN process. RAPTOR provides better-quality schedules, faster scheduling, and the ability to handle larger, more complex sets of requests. Using artificial intelligence methods and techniques, RAPTOR negotiates resolution of conflicts in an automated or semi-automated manner and performs far-future and contingency scheduling/planning as well as automatic abnormal real-time scheduling signal detection and prediction. Its intelligent, intuitive user interfaces enable graphical editing and management of decision processes associated with both satellite constellations and individual satellites by SOCs, Real-Time Schedulers (RTSs), the 22 SOPS, and the 22 SOPS crew commander. RAPTOR complements the successes already achieved using MIDAS to deconflict schedule requests across all SOCs for 22 SOPS.
RAPTOR performs AFSCN scheduling, deconfliction, and negotiation both during the deconfliction period and in real-time; improving and enhancing ABNet to increase its level of automation, greatly decreasing the amount of manpower required, incorporating additional inputs, and providing reasoning over its outputs for intuitive, concise displays to end-users; allows appropriate far-future and contingency planning; provides intelligent, user-friendly interfaces for a diversity of personnel; and integrate with existing required software and prepares to integrate with the Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) Mission System (JMS).
The most direct target for the results of this effort is the AFSCN. Additionally NASA has the space communications networks, which can utilize this software (Deep Space Network (DSN), Space Network (SN), and Ground Network (GN)).
Optimization of Communication Networks with Geodesic Dome Phased Array Antennas using Artificial Intelligence Techniques
Stottler Henke’s Phased Array Smart Allocation and Planning (PASAP) tool applies artificial intelligence techniques to two distinct, yet interrelated problems with planning Geodesic Dome Phased Array Antenna (GDPAA) contacts. First, PASAP comes equipped with a smart beam allocation algorithm, which is responsible for the task of allocating beams to transmit/receive modules on the antenna without overloading. Moreover, PASAP features a beam path planning algorithm. This path planning algorithm was originally developed for the U.S. Army to enable UAVs and piloted rotary wing aircraft to more capably avoid threats and obstacles; for PASAP, we modified this algorithm to meet the challenge of better beam path planning — demonstrating the flexibility of Stottler Henke’s algorithms and how we often customize the same basic algorithms or software systems to address a diversity of customers and their unique needs.
Given an allocation of beams to transmit/receive on the antenna, a path across the topography of a geodesic dome antenna surface must be established that preserves the assignments without overloading or violating communication constraints. Although the PASAP tool was developed with the specific constraints of existing GDPAA designs in mind, it is intentionally abstract in order to apply for a broader range of potential constraint satisfaction problems with different kinds of phased arrays. The initial GDPAA application was designed to contribute to the overall feasibility of GDPAA utilization by demonstrating an automated means of optimizing the increased capacity that comes with such a platform, which holds the potential to not only reduce the manpower requirements for the scheduling activity, but also to contribute to greater overall satellite communication capacity.
This material is based upon work supported by the United States Air Force under Contract Nos. FA9453-12-C-0066, FA9453-14-C-0039, FA9453-14-C-0197, FA8650-10-C-1866.
Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Air Force.