The incredible technical innovations that will take Alexa into space

Arun Krishnan Aug 26, 2022
Alexa Skills

Earlier this year, Amazon and Lockheed Martin announced plans to send Alexa to space as part of Artemis I, the first of several NASA missions intended to land the first woman and the first person of color on the Moon. 

Alexa will join the mission as part of Callisto, a technology demonstration payload embedded into NASA’s Orion spacecraft. The payload has been built in collaboration with engineers from Amazon, Cisco, and Lockheed Martin.

Artemis I is the first integrated test of NASA’s deep space exploration systems, which includes the all-new Space Launch System rocket and the Orion spacecraft. Although the first mission is uncrewed, Artemis I is an important step that will allow NASA and others in the industry to test technology that could be used in subsequent crewed missions to the Moon and other deep space destinations.

Because Artemis I is an uncrewed mission, Amazon has worked with partners at Lockheed Martin and Cisco to build a virtual crew experience at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Based in the Mission Control Center, the experience will provide remote access to Callisto, and allow Amazon to simulate interactions between Alexa and future astronauts. 

Amazon will also launch a new skill for Alexa to bring the mission to life for the next generation of astronauts, engineers, scientists and space enthusiasts. Alexa will provide customers with in-depth information on Artemis I, including telemetry data from the Orion spacecraft; videos and imagery from the mission, including a launch livestream; video of virtual crew interactions from Johnson Space Center; and reminders and notifications about key milestones in the mission.

Launching Alexa into space, and enabling the experiences such as the ones described above, required several innovations on the hardware and software side. Today, we are launching a new series on As part of this series, one new article published every month will explore each of the following innovations in greater detail.

  • Overcoming limited bandwidth to communicate with Alexa via the Deep Space Network (DSN): The DSN has significant bandwidth restrictions, especially on the upload which is a maximum of 200 kbps. Engineers at Amazon prototyped an approach to send and receive audio data via a data stream that communicated at a mere 32 kbps.
  • Real-time ingestion of telemetry data from Orion made available to the Alexa public skill: Amazon engineers are using an AWS GovCloud S 3 bucket to enable the real-time ingestion of live telemetry from Orion by the Alexa skill.  
  • The development of a new audio communications network: The voice loop system to be used in communication between ground control and crew cabin has bandwidth limitation of 4kHz while Alexa engine expects 8kHz audio signals. Amazon designed, prototyped and tested a new audio communication network capable of delivering 8kHz audio: Lockheed and NASA have officially adopted the solution.
  • Advances in acoustics for Alexa: Amazon’s acoustic engineers overcame hurdles related to factors such as the available frequency ranges, and signal-to-noise ratio.
  • Innovations related to Local Voice Control: To demonstrate a fully autonomous experience, one that can be used in future missions where Earth connectivity is no longer a practical option for real time communications, Amazon’s engineers used Alexa Local Voice Control to get around the limited internet connectivity. Local Voice Control allows select devices to process voice commands locally, rather than sending information to the cloud.
  • Voice-forward experiences with Alexa Voice Service (AVS): Among a plethora of innovations, Amazon’s scientists and engineers developed an audio streaming application that plays  utterances and captures Alexa responses based on Real-time Transport Protocol (RTP). This involved designing a remote, voice-forward experience where the user will not be near the device and Alexa responds to utterances from remote audio input sources via the RTP stream.

“Sending one byte of Alexa into space required us to innovate across multiple fronts,” said Sidd Lathia, Director of Engineering for AVS. “However, what’s especially meaningful for our team is the impact that these innovations will have on customers on earth. Think of it as one giant leap for Alexa – and an even bigger advancement for acoustics on earth.”

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