Although astronauts are trained physically and psychologically to deal with extreme space situations, living in a confined space with no gravity could sometimes be stressful and could hamper their decision-making processes. This is where artificial intelligence is coming into the picture.
Several years after the first moon landing, experts are now looking at emerging technologies to understand the space exploration a little better. With recent breakthroughs and discoveries, AI has been showing immense potential in space exploration, such as global navigation, earth observation, and communications to and fro. Historically, machine learning algorithms have been used in monitoring the spacecraft, autonomous navigation of the spacecraft, controlling systems, and intelligently detecting objects in the route. And now, in a bid to help astronauts, AI-based assistants are being created to aid astronauts in their missions to Mars and beyond. These assistants are designed to understand and predicts the requirements of the crew and comprehend astronauts’ emotions and their mental health.
Game Changer In Space Exploration
AI has positioned itself as a game-changer, even for the space industry. The governments and agencies have been leveraging AI technologies, since a long time, to gather imaging data related to space exploration. Robotica is also seen to be used by government agencies to conduct modern surveillance, identify and mitigate risks, and also to analyse the substantial amount of collected data.
According to the European Space Agency (ESA), satellites can produce over 150 terabytes of data per day. With the use of AI technologies, one can reduce the mission costs, extend battery life, and can analyse a vast amount of imaging data produced by the satellites. Earth Observer 1 (EO-1) satellite, SKICAT, ENVISAT are a few of the satellite examples around that uses AI to provide actionable insights for agencies, governments and businesses, and help them in making accurate decisions.
Another significant use of AI in the space industry is the dynamic spectrum usage, which is a process of increasing the spectrum efficiency of the connectivity via real-time adjustments. In the case of space exploration, while satellites can learn to transmit data using the appropriate frequencies, deep learning technology can simplify this communication. According to a report, the technology used for RLAN can be enhanced to lower the chance of interference and increase spectral efficiency.
These technologies also help in the telemetry and controlling of geostationary orbit and non-geostationary orbit’s frequency and physical coordination. Deep learning technologies are not only reducing the interference burden for satellite networks but also avoiding co-channel interference at different stages of the satellite orbit.
AI-Based Space Exploration
To navigate space travel efficiently, NASA is continuously making strides towards AI applications. In 2018, NASA awarded $330,000 as a research grant to a team to develop an AI to guide the ships in the space amid the debris. This autonomous navigation used Ethereum blockchain technology to create a “decentralised, secure, and cognitive networking, and computing infrastructure for deep space exploration.” Alongside, NASA has developed an AI upgrade — AEGIS (Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science), which helped in automating the laser-firing capabilities of the rover. With an increased pace in data collection, a trained AI system is a perfect match to monitor the spacecraft as well as reduce the downtime and possible risks.
The partner between NASA Frontier Development Lab (FDL) and Intel, in 2018, also provided directions to astronauts in space. In this program, NASA appointed a few researchers to develop an AI system that will simulate the moon’s surface and then compare the same with the local environment. The AI would be trained with millions of moon images and then would use a neural network to create a virtual moon. With the help of Google’s trained model, NASA also managed to discover two obscure planets — Kepler-90i and Kepler-80g.
Apart from NASA, the same year, European aerospace company — Airbus had also introduced AI in space exploration. AI-powered 3D printed spherical robot — Crew Interactive Mobile Companion (CIMON) was being developed to help astronauts with their everyday task at International Space Station with the empathy level of a human. A second version of the technology, with extended capabilities and functionalities, is also in process, known as CIMON-2. Apart from CIMON, Robonaut, Valkyrie, RoboSimian from NASA; Kirobo from Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency; Dextre from Canadian Space Agency; and AILA from German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence are a few of the humanoids developed by NASA and other space agencies to help astronauts in the space.
Another significant example is the Japanese Space Agency, which has developed an intelligent system — JAXA’s Int-Ball, for the ISS, to take images of experiments in the Japanese module. This autonomous, self-propelled, and manoeuvrable ball camera used existing drone technology and was developed to help astronauts with on-board problems and exploration missions.
AI-Led Space Race
The modern space race, with the interference of artificial intelligence, is relatively different than the 20th-century competition between two Cold War rivals — the Soviet Union and the United States, to achieve the first spaceflight capability.
With the space industry set to be worth $1 trillion by 2040, according to reports, it’s no surprise that some of the world’s prominent businessmen also want to be a part of this trend. Big names like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson, fueled by their intense rivalries, have shown interest in AI research for space exploration. These three companies have been running at the same pace and almost on the same path.
With an ultimate mission of colonisation of Mars, Musk founded SpaceX in 2002 to help in reducing space transportation. Bezos, on the other hand, invested over $500 million in an aerospace manufacturing company — Blue Origin, to develop a lunar lander for NASA to return its astronauts to the moon by 2024. And Thirdly, Branson came up with Virgin Galactic, a space flight company which develops commercial spacecraft and provides suborbital spaceflights and launches to space tourists and for space science missions.
Over the last 20 years, these billion-dollar companies came a long way with using artificial intelligence in their space exploration. And, in more recent years, they have taken bold steps towards their goals. So, with such huge developments and involvement of artificial intelligence in space, it is difficult to say, who will be the first, among the billionaires, to crack the AI market and take the lead in this space race.
Although, like other applications of AI, nothing can be concrete and secure with AI; however, the technology of artificial intelligence is showing clear potential in exploring the interstellar space with innovative machines and projects. With each innovation, technology is coming closer to providing newer insights and proving to be an advantage for humans. Humanoids and other machine innovations with artificial intelligence are propelling the space industry, which means the future is exciting, and the potential is immense.
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Sejuti currently works as Senior Technology Journalist at Analytics India Magazine (AIM). Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org