Roland Piquepaille's Technology Trends
How new technologies are modifying our way of life

jeudi 19 août 2004

NASA is working on a set of software tools named 'Virtual Iron Bird' (VIB), which is really a knowledge-integrating virtual vehicle and could be ready by June 2006. It will evolve into a computer system which will contain all what is known about a spacecraft, and embarked in future spaceships, like HAL in '2001, a Space Odyssey' or in the 'Star-Trek' series. SpaceDaily says it will permit to analyze past events or to design and test new parts before they're built. In fact, it is a 3D CAD-based visualization-model integrated with functional and behavioral models of the vehicle. It also will be used to diagnose the health of space vehicles. Here on Earth, VIB components could be used by engineering students and the automotive industry.

Here is how starts the SpaceDaily story -- really a NASA news release.

All that is known about future spaceships will be in their main computers, according to NASA scientists. They busily are creating a set of computer 'tools' that possibly will evolve into a main computer system much like that of the fictional starship Enterprise of television's 'Star Trek' series.
A first version of the new tools -- collectively called the 'virtual iron bird' (VIB) -- could be ready by June 2006. An 'iron bird' is an engineering term for a physical model of an aircraft that designers use to verify an airplane's systems. In contrast, the VIB tools create a computerized 'iron bird' model that engineers can use equally well to analyze past events or test spacecraft before they are even built.
"The VIB is an early version of a 'Star Trek'-like main ship computer. The virtual iron bird -- sometimes called 'Mission on a Disk' -- will include the total knowledge of everything about a spacecraft and will be carried on that spacecraft," said Mark Shirley, a NASA Ames computer scientist.

Let's look like at some VIB components, such as CAD or diagnostic tools.

"The novel part of the NASA virtual iron bird system is that it can put 3-D images and other relevant information, such as engineering drawings, specifications, part numbers and many more details, all on one page," explained David Maluf, a scientist at NASA Ames Research Center.
"Another part of VIB can diagnose the health of the space vehicle - like aging electrical wires that might be affected by big swings in temperature that occur in space," Maluf observed. The VIB can access drawings, procedures and a history of the space vehicle in a single report, according to Maluf.
An artist rendition of one of the Virtual Iron Bird 'what if scenarios.' The VIB also can realistically simulate real-time space flight of a vehicle that has not yet been built. On the left is an artist rendition of one of the Virtual Iron Bird 'what if scenarios.' (Credit: NASA Ames)
Use of VIB by International Space Station system engineers And this shows a quick look behavioral analysis tool in daily use by International Space Station system engineers. (Credit: NASA Ames)

What will come next, according to NASA?

Using a VIB-like program, students could better understand engineering details of the International Space Station, for example. Automotive engineers could use a specialized VIB program to help design fuel-efficient cars of the future that would inform their drivers of potential problems and recommended repairs.
Finally, for spacecraft engineers, the Virtual Iron Bird may well help fulfill the Vision for Space Exploration, helping them to visualize and design highly reliable spacecraft more quickly than ever before. Moreover, the VIB software tools could provide a vital, extra margin of safety for astronauts riding spaceships on long-duration voyages by diagnosing and providing solutions to problems that space travelers could solve millions of miles from the home planet.

For slightly more information -- NASA is not very talkative about this project -- here is a link to a fact sheet about the VIB (PDF format, 1 page, 2.83 MB).

Sources: SpaceDaily, August 19, 2004; NASA

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