In this video, I go through a few interesting examples of artificial intelligence applications in the space industry.
1:35 Earth Observation
2:42 Space Observation
4:50 Manufacturing and Design
Artificial intelligence and space exploration, two fields that separate from each other, attract quite a lot of interest and attention, but when combined together, they open a whole new frontier of opportunities. In this video, I would like to share with you some interesting examples of applications, of artificial intelligence within the space industry and how AI is used to help build and operate spacecrafts and space systems.
To start with something more general, as with other manufacturing and production fields, AI helps by analyzing data and predicting the best times for maintenance. It can predict anomalies. It can help with simulating and understanding the performance of a system, etc. Such space systems, for example, could be satellites.
The satellite industry has been growing quite a lot in the past few years. So we have a lot of satellites orbiting around the globe and they all have sensors pointed down at Earth, collecting lots and lots of data.
This data can be used, for example, to understand how the satellite is performing and help operate and maintain it. Satellite operators are already using artificial intelligence for the course correction of satellites. Said in other words, AI helps to avoid collision with other satellites, with space debris, and in general, with other objects.
And all the data that satellites collect helps us understand a lot of things on earth. For example, AI and satellite data are already used for understanding and predicting volcano activity. Some governments and municipalities are already using AI for urban planning, like infrastructure, traffic, or waste management. I’ve even heard of projects related to energy. Like using artificial intelligence to first, count rooftops based on satellite images, and second, predict the best possible rooftops for installing solar panels.
Moreover, there are applications related to climate change or biodiversity. In one of the innovation programs that I’m involved in co-organizing called The Mothership missions, last year, we had two very interesting challenges. One was to use satellite images and AI to detect ocean sedimentation and assist an NGO focused on preserving coral reef health or the other challenge, which was related to sand theft. Sand theft apparently is a big problem in some countries, especially in Southeast Asia where illegal construction involves the illegal collection of sand.
We have satellites looking down at Earth. What about all the telescopes looking in the other direction towards outer space? NASA is already using artificial intelligence to build virtual models of asteroids. This helps with measuring their shape, size, spin rate, and in some cases, even their composition. This is very useful because not only we can understand better the trajectory of an asteroid, but we can in general learn more about the solar system that we are living in.
Furthermore, AI helps with the detection of exoplanets, which traditionally is a very, very complex task. Exoplanets are planets orbiting, other stars outside of our own solar system. The reason why it’s so difficult to detect exoplanets is that the light coming out of their homestar is so much brighter than the light that the planet reflects that we can’ detect the planet itself. So what astronomers do is they observe the light coming from the star, which is very, very small, as you know, and there’s an even smaller, very, very tiny black dot that would go in front of the star at regular intervals. This means that there’s a planet orbiting it. Detecting that with manual observation is extremely difficult. Artificial intelligence helps a lot here.
Manufacturing and Design
Going back to Earth, artificial intelligence is heavily used nowadays in manufacturing. When it comes to space systems, this might include satellites, rockets, rovers, etc. AI helps by optimizing the production and manufacturing process and more specifically by allowing the creation of digital twins. A digital twin is not only used in the space industry. It’s used everywhere in manufacturing nowadays, but it’s using AI to create a virtual representation of a system early on in its design process. This allows the engineers to predict the system’s performance, analyze what would be the best design for the goals of the system, understand its potential failures and adjust the design accordingly.
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