Media Contact:
Jim Ong



Originally developed for NASA, Aurora software creates near-optimal schedules that satisfy complex constraints

SAN MATEO, California, Oct. 10, 2003 – The first intelligent planning and scheduling system that enables companies to easily encode and apply sophisticated decision-making rules was introduced today by Stottler Henke Associates, Inc., a software development firm based here. The Aurora™ scheduling system generates schedules more effectively than traditional systems by applying domain-specific knowledge and heuristics, constraints, and resource requirements. Using Aurora’s graphical user interface, scheduling experts can easily configure Aurora with this planning and scheduling knowledge, as well as visualize and modify the automatically- generated schedules.

Aurora was originally developed to help NASA tackle difficult, mission-critical scheduling problems that previously required the judgment and experience of expert human schedulers. For example, Aurora was deployed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center to schedule the use of floor space and other resources at the Space Station Processing Facility (SSPF), the world’s largest low-particle clean room where International Space Station components are prepared for space flight. Because SSPF processing and launch costs are very expensive, it is necessary to meet launch dates and utilize SSPF resources efficiently. However, this is difficult because there are many types of resources, tasks, and constraints; the floor space and resources are overcommitted; and the constraints are unusual.

Aurora was also used to create Aurora/AMP, a replacement for the Automated Manifest Planner developed by Stottler Henke and used by NASA since 1994. AMP generates short-term and long-term (10 year) schedules of ground-based activities that prepare space shuttles before each mission and refurbish them after each mission. Because the shuttle spacecraft and ground-based facilities are so expensive, increasing the number of shuttle launches by just one is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, so finding near-optimal schedules is critical. Rapid generation of near-optimal schedules enables NASA to perform what-if studies efficiently that analyze numerous alternate scenarios.

“The precursor version of Aurora is used daily to support major processing and space shuttle launch decisions; to coordinate our launches with those of Russia, Japan, and the European Space Agency; and to determine NASA’s launch requirements and flight rates,” says NASA Shuttle Processing Manager Tom Overton. “It enables us to generate complex schedules in a few hours, compared to days or weeks required by our previous scheduling systems.”

Aurora is also being studied for possible use in assigning missiles to intercept one or more waves of incoming enemy ballistic missiles, each with different targets. Solving this problem requires selecting the best possible assignment of intercept missiles (resources) to intercept missions (activities) in real time to minimize the effects of enemy nuclear missile attacks.

Domain Knowledge Enables High Performance Scheduling

Traditional scheduling systems use simple algorithms and criteria when selecting the next activity to schedule and when assigning resources and times to each activity. For example, traditional schedulers might select the activity with the earliest due date that can be carried out using available resources. However, schedules generated by these simple and generic decision rules are frequently far from optimal. By contrast, Aurora applies domain-specific knowledge to solve difficult scheduling problems that require the execution of many activities with few available time windows, limited resources, and complex constraints. For example, users can define attributes for individual tasks, groups of tasks, resources, resource sets, and constraints. These attribute values can be considered by user-supplied or built-in scheduling decision rules that are invoked at key scheduling decision points within single or multi-pass algorithms such as determining which task to schedule next, selecting the overall best time window and resources, or handling the situation where not all of the required resources are available at the required time. This capability lets Aurora handle scheduling problems in which resources of the same type are not necessarily equivalent and inter-changeable, but must be selected while considering other aspects of the scheduling problem in order to produce optimal schedules. Additional attributes of each resource can be considered when making intelligent resource selection decisions in order to generate schedules that are closer to being optimal.

A Graphical User Interface Provides Fine Control

A graphical user interface enables Aurora users to enter domain-specific knowledge and specify their scheduling requirements quickly and easily. Aurora’s interactive graphical displays enable the user to visualize and edit the schedule’s resource allocations and the temporal relationships among activities. Scheduling Problems, such as unresolved conflicts, are highlighted to attract the user’s attention.

Platforms, Price, and Availability

Aurora is available immediately from Stottler Henke by calling (650) 931-2700, or by sending e-mail to Aurora runs on PCs running the Windows 2000 or Windows XP operating system. Pricing for bundled software licenses and consulting starts at $25,000.

Founded in 1988, Stottler Henke Associates, Inc. applies artificial intelligence and other advanced software technologies to solve problems that defy solution using traditional approaches. The company delivers intelligent software solutions for education and training, planning and scheduling, knowledge management and discovery, decision support, and software development. Stottler Henke’s clients include manufacturers, retailers, educational media companies and government agencies.   Web: