Wednesday, May 26, 2010
This article probably qualifies as the most interesting space-related article this week, as it directly relates to our ability to our ability to propel probes. Apparently using a genetic algorithm has resulted in a (theoretical) marked improvement in the lifetime of the grid an ion engine uses, from an average of 2.8 years to 5.1. Genetic algorithms are a nice way to carry out fine tuning that the human mind otherwise might not be able to accomplish, by creating an algorithm that modifies itself slightly at random, running it through a test a bazillion times, taking the winners of these tests on to the next stage where they are run through the test again, and repeated again and again until no more improvements are forthcoming. Now all that needs to be done is submit this improved design to some real-world testing to see how it works in practice, and if everything goes right we will have an improved ion engine design for practical use.