Amazon’s Alexa and Cisco’s Webex are heading to deep space on NASA’s upcoming Moon mission

When NASA debuts its new huge deep-space rocket for the primary time within the coming months, a well-known voice assistant and video teleconferencing device will probably be going alongside for the journey. A model of Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant and Cisco’s Webex videoconferencing platform will probably be included on the flight to space, a part of a know-how demonstration to see if these instruments may profit future astronauts flying to distant locations just like the Moon and Mars.

The upcoming flight is called Artemis I, and it’s the primary take a look at mission in a collection of flights deliberate for NASA’s Artemis program — an initiative to ship the primary girl and the primary individual of coloration to the floor of the Moon. Tentatively set for March, Artemis I’ll mark the inaugural flight of NASA’s next-generation rocket, the Space Launch System, or SLS, a gargantuan rocket that Boeing has been creating for the final decade. The SLS is designed to launch individuals and cargo into deep space, with passengers using on prime of the car in a brand new crew capsule known as Orion, developed by Lockheed Martin.

“a future in which astronauts could turn to an onboard artificial intelligence for information”

For Artemis I, SLS will launch an Orion crew capsule across the Moon on a weeks-long flight — the primary time the 2 automobiles will fly to space collectively. This is a crucial take a look at launch, so no individuals will probably be flying inside Orion, save for a model. However, the pretend passenger may have some machine companions. Lockheed Martin teamed up with Amazon and Cisco to mount a “human-machine interface” within the spot the place Orion’s management panel will probably be sooner or later. Called Callisto after the companion of Artemis in Greek mythology, the field may have a voice-activated Alexa speaker, with its iconic blue ring gentle, and an iPad that runs Webex.


At some level in the course of the Artemis I mission, individuals on the bottom will take a look at out the field, as if astronauts are interacting with the speaker and the display on board Orion. Ultimately, Lockheed Martin, Amazon, and Cisco need to see if such an interface can be useful for future deep space vacationers.

(L) An creative rendering of the SLS; (R) An creative rendering of the Orion crew capsule


“We… envision a future in which astronauts could turn to an onboard artificial intelligence for information and for assistance and ultimately for companionship,” Aaron Rubenson, vp of Alexa Everywhere at Amazon, stated throughout a press briefing. “You could easily imagine astronauts turning to this onboard AI to talk about the status of a subsystem or maybe controlling the lights in the cabin or asking for a particular camera view.”

To see if these instruments work, Lockheed Martin will make use of “virtual crew members” on the bottom. While Orion is in space, an individual in NASA’s mission management middle in Houston will give a command to Alexa. That individual’s voice will play out over a speaker inside Orion so as to activate Alexa. The digital crew members will ask for sure sorts of info, such because the velocity Orion is shifting by space or how lengthy till the capsule performs its subsequent thruster burn. Alexa is designed to pull real-time knowledge from Orion so as to reply these questions by its speaker.

digital crew members will ask for sure sorts of info

The Orion spacecraft is supplied with Wi-Fi, however for the reason that car will probably be hurtling by space away from Earth in the course of the demonstration, web connectivity goes to be restricted. As a end result, Alexa received’t want to entry the web in the course of the flight to reply a number of the quick questions from the digital crew members. Instead, Amazon designed this Alex with a system often known as “local voice control,” permitting it to reply to all kinds of pre-determined instructions. “There are hundreds of parameters, thousands of utterances, where we’ll be able to get that real-time access,” Rob Chambers, director of business civil space technique at Lockheed Martin, stated in the course of the briefing.


Virtual crew members can even ask Alexa to change the lighting inside Orion. “It is the iconic use case of Alexa, at least around my house,” stated Chambers. Lockheed Martin has put in a separate LED lighting system contained in the capsule behind the panel show, which Alexa ought to give you the chance to management. Lockheed Martin has additionally mounted a couple of microphones and cameras all through Orion’s cockpit, in addition to a digital actuality digital camera, to file the demonstration and be certain that the field works in the course of the mission.

The Callisto field present process assessments on the bottom forward of flight

Image: Lockheed Martin

The final take a look at will see if the Webex platform works. Virtual crew members on the bottom will seem on the iPad display inside Orion and have a video convention in 720P with Alexa in the course of the flight. Of course, poor web connectivity will possible be an issue with this one, too. “There will be a lot of back loss compensation technology because your network connectivity is going to be not as reliable as what you have,” Jeetu Patel, govt vp and normal supervisor of safety and collaboration at Cisco, stated in the course of the briefing. “And so we have to make sure that that’s factored in.” Cisco envisions this device might be utilized by astronauts to videoconference with members of mission management or maybe family members on the bottom whereas astronauts are touring by space.

However, Callisto is first and foremost a know-how demonstration, and there are at the moment no plans to fly the field on future missions with Orion. The subsequent flight after Artemis I is Artemis II, which is able to even have astronauts on board Orion flying across the Moon. If Callisto does prove to be a hit, it’s attainable a future model of the system will make it onto upcoming Artemis missions however in a really completely different kind. “We’re discussing with NASA the other applications of this,” Chambers stated.

The companions have already got grand visions for what future Callisto techniques might do, from controlling timers, video shows, cameras inside a spacecraft cockpit, or ambient temperatures. “We see the value now,” stated Chambers. “We can start working with members of the space industry to figure out what are the most valuable things that should buy their way onto this capability.”

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