This interesting answer to the question Do antenna farms on spacecraft make any sense or are they purely aesthetic? in Worldbuilding SE links to the NASA Ames page 'Borg' Computer Collective Designs NASA Space Antenna. The clever title refers to a small rack of computers working together using evolutionary design algorithms to iteratively adapt a design in funny ways to obtain a certain set of performance specification.

The link says:

Like a friendly, non-biological form of the Borg Collective of science fiction fame, 80 personal computers, using artificial intelligence (AI), have combined their silicon brains to quickly design a tiny, advanced space antenna.

If all goes well, three of these computer-designed space antennas will begin their trip into space in March 2006, when an L-1011 aircraft will take off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The airplane will drop a Pegasus XL rocket into the sky high above the Pacific Ocean. The rocket will ignite and carry three small Space Technology (ST5) satellites into orbit.

Each satellite will be equipped with a strange-looking, computer-designed space antenna. Although they resemble bent paperclips, the antennas are highly efficient, according to scientists.

It continues, and has other links.

The NASA Computational Sciences Division Intelligence Report 2004 says:

The Evolvable Systems Group’s evolved antennas are being prepared for tests that will determine if they are flight qualified for the mission scheduled to orbit in the Earth's magnetosphere after 2004.

The New Millennium Program’s Space Technology 5 (ST5) mission will test multiple technologies and mission concepts in Earth’s orbit for future use. Each technology represents a breakthrough in performance, capability or application in a new and unique manner. Once launched with ST5, the antennas will be the first evolved hardware ever flown on a NASA mission. On ST5 the antenna will both relay satellite data to the ground and accept commands sent from Earth to the satellites.

The evolved antenna is a product of evolvable systems research, an emerging set of computer methods using algorithms that are creative and are termed invention machines because of their demonstrated ability to produce patentable inventions.

The Question: Have these evolved antenna tests taken place? Did it go well? Have subsequent antenna designs based on this kind of algorithm ever been used in spacecraft beyond the preliminary testing stages?

I found this larger version of the same image in the links in this thread but I can't read German. There's a similar image on page 18 in which says "Hornby et al. 2011" but I can't read this either.

adapted antenna design

  • I am able to read German and a little French, but I found no additional information about the antenna in this links. – Uwe Oct 19 at 13:36
  • 1
    I just found this NASA paper about this antenna and the ST5 mission. – Uwe Oct 19 at 13:48
  • A book chapter behind a paywall. – Uwe Oct 19 at 13:52
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    There are a lot of more useful links when using with this search string: "EVOLUTIONARY SOFTWARE AUTOMATICALLY DESIGNed ANTENNA". – Uwe Oct 19 at 13:59
up vote 20 down vote accepted

Yes, an evolutionary designed antenna was flown on ST5 mission with success.

enter image description here

From this NASA paper:

In total, it took less than one month to modify our software and evolve this second antenna design, for which compliancy with mission requirements was confirmed by testing in an anechoic test chamber at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. On March 22, 2006 the ST5 mission was successfully launched into space using the evolved antenna ST5-33-142-7 as one of its antennas. This evolved antenna is the first computer-evolved antenna to be deployed for any application and is the first computer-evolved hardware in space.

A fitness function F was used to compare different evolutionary steps in standing wave ratio, gain errors and smoothness. enter image description here

For the mission TDRS-C another antenna was designed using the Columbia 10,000 processor supercomputer:

enter image description here

Another NASA paper about this antenna.

The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer LADEE mission used a “evolved” Omni/MGA antenna design, developed at NASA ARC, to achieve omni-directional coverage with a smaller area of medium gain response.

  • Hey these are great, thank you! – uhoh Oct 19 at 14:49

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