Updated: Apr 3, 2020
Submitted by Sarmad Ahmad, Research Intern on the Harnessing of AI’s Potential Towards Outer Space Exploration.
Across various fields in various ways, Humankind has strived to take upon endeavours it believed could provide answers to the existential questions it poses. As we explored every corner of the known world, new and unknown domains grasped our attention toward its exploration; Outer Space.
Since the launch of the Soviet’s Sputnik 1, Earth’s first artificial satellite that entered its orbit and the initiation of the Space Race era, the global community’s fascination and drive towards outer space exploration has had its ups and downs but has never settled or ceased in any manner.
Today, AI development occurs in various sectors, and space exploration is no exception. AI development in outer space takes upon existing efforts and pairs it with the capabilities of AI application and pushes us into the hyper-real possibility of the dawn of a new defined era in space exploration.
Present Day: The many uses of AI in outer space
AI-assisted Satellite Imagery: aside from the understated and overlooked importance of satellites in various forms of modern communication systems, Satellites that orbit the earth generate roughly 150 terabytes of visual data every day. This data ranges from environmental and meteorological data to images of the Earth’s crust and the oceans which can be used to assess the potential of environmental disasters. Since the volume of this data is massive and unable to be comprehended effectively exclusively by humans, AI-assisted recognition and deep learning can analyse massive volumes of data, review, red-flag and highlight data that would require human attention, without the need to take breaks or time for sleep. This increases the efficacy of data review as the probability of an error in data analysis by an algorithm is very minimal.
Satellite monitoring and navigation: Satellites are complex and intricate structures of various interconnected and overlapping equipment, and require extensive amounts of care. AI does this internally by monitoring the health of satellites, and externally by effectively controlling the navigation of these satellites to ensure a safe orbital route without interference and collisions with space objects and satellites.
AI-Assistance towards Astronauts and space travellers: AI is utilised to assist astronauts on their daily tasks, facilitate documentation of various missions they undergo and effectively handle communications between space stations and earth. There exist two known autonomous AI assistants used for space voyages. The German Aerospace Center (DLR) launched CIMON (Crew Interactive Mobile Companion) in 2018 assist astronauts aboard the International Space Station, which has already been replaced by CIMON-2. Similarly, The Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) has developed an intelligent system currently aboard the Japanese module (KIBO) of the International Space Station, called JAXA Int-Ball. The JAXA Int-Ball was initially made to promote intra and extra-vehicular experiments in space, but now facilitates documentation of experiments by taking pictures and videos autonomously.
Exploration in non-human friendly environments: NASA’s current Mars rovers are currently equipped with an AI called AEGIS (Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science). The AEGIS AI on board the Mars rovers can utilise the hardware of these vehicles to navigate the harsh environments and territory of Mars, which is known to be toxic and incapable (as of right now) to sustain human life.
Assistance towards manifesting space-resistant architecture for colonisation: AI is being used to drive research and development towards the creation of “space-resistant” architecture for the potential colonisation of planets. AI Space Factory is an example of such, which aims to move towards the creation of space architecture using AI. It has already succeeded in creating its primary manifestations, called “MARSHA”, which utilises completely biodegradable and renewable materials for the construction of this architecture and plans to utilise the capability of AI to have the structures ready and made on Mars’ surface prior to the arrival of any human crew.
The way forward
Regardless of the varying ways outer space research and development is poised to move towards, it is undeniable that through the utilisation of AI, it could be anything but bland. The potential of AI’s uses in space, aside from the obvious uses in our current day to day lives, harnesses the possibility of the creation of a life that was once only liveable within the pages of a science-fiction novel.
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