The Future of Space Explorations is in the Hands of AI and Roboticsby Adilin Beatrice January 11, 2021
The space exploration programs are adopting Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics to fast-track their mission
Countries across the globe have been running on the race to explore space for a century now. Remarkably, there is no victory to it. As nations send more rockets and satellites to the outer space, they get more information about the floating components. Like many other industries, the space exploration process is also adopting Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics to fast-track their mission. This leads us to great lengths and never explored places.
In the early days of technology, artificial intelligence was comparatively less flexible. AI systems were taught by humans through input information that involves the complex job of doing computer codes. But today, things have turned upside down. Emerging technologies like machine learning and deep learning are making things easy for AI. This gives an opportunity for organizations working in space programs to embrace AI and robotics. Machine learning facilitates AI to train itself through a huge amount of data that are fed in the system. Deep learning is a specialized technique within machine learning, whereby the machine utilizes multi-layered artificial neural networks to train itself on complex tasks like image recognition. Robots are invading the space and reaching out to places that even human astronauts can’t. These technologies are just the tip of an iceberg. By going deep into AI and robotics, we can find far advanced AI technologies being employed in space missions.
The use of AI in space exploration is valued at a staggering US$2 billion and still growing. Both humans and scientific exploration missions are impacted by AI developments. In 2020 and beyond, the mission to explore the moon, Mars, asteroids and comets are set by scientists. These can be fast-tracked and advanced with the help of technology. Some of the applications of artificial intelligence in space missions are autonomous location tracking, navigation and map-building, SLAM technology, fault detection, isolation and recovery methods, image processing, object identification and feature detection, task planning and scheduling. Robots help the space exploration process through the mechanical design of planetary rovers, the mechanical design of space manipulators, actuators and sensors of space robots, end-effector/tools of space robots, reconfigurable robots, and robot mobility. Not just space researchers and scientists, even governments across the globe are showing interest in adopting AI and robotics to become powerful.
Recent achievements in space using AI
NASA is planning to make communication networks more efficient and reliable using cognitive video, which can pick the ‘white noise’ areas in communication bands and uses them to transmit data. The features help minimize delay times and maximize the use of limited telecommunication bands available. NASA is also planning for more advanced missions in the future to explore deep space. The space organization is planning to design more autonomous spacecraft and landers, so that decisions can be taken on-site, removing delay in communication relay times. NASA is also making a move along with Google to train its expensive AI algorithms to effectively soft through the data from the Kepler mission to look for signals from an exoplanet crossing in front of its parent star. Gathering the data from NASA, Artificial Intelligence Data Analysis (AIDA) project, funded under European Horizons 2020 framework is developing an intelligent system that will read and process data from space, aiming to discover new things, reveal anomalies and recognize the structure. NASA’s program to explore Mars has AI applications that might mark a milestone in the AI in space timeline. The AEGIS (Autonomous Exploration for Fathering Increased Science) initiative took off in 2020 and set in the Mars is helping the Rover with cameras and specimen collection.
Mission Shakti launched by India is an Anti-Satellite Weapon powered with AI and robotics to ensure accuracy and interception to accurately pinpoint its target and destroy it. India also used technology for its Orbiter and Launcher with machine learning and AI in its Rover named ‘Pragyan.’ The moon mission rover ensures efficient working of the robot in collecting specimens from the space of the moon, click pictures and videos, and use the technology build-in.
Remarkable Robots in space exploration
The habit of sending robots to space started in 1957 when USSR sent Sputnik 1 to orbit the earth. Beginning there, the robotics exploration in space has seen unprecedented growth in the following years. Recently, the Canadian Space Association launched Dextre, a robotic arm designed to install and replace small equipment such as exterior cameras or the 100 kg batteries used on the space station. Dextre is currently operated by ground control teams from both the Canadian Space Association and NASA.
R5, originally designed by the Johnson Space Centre (JSC) for the 2013 DARPA Robotics Challenge became a part of NASA’s Space Robotics Challenge later. The six-foot-tall robot is currently being upgraded with the software needed for space exploration by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of Edinburg in Scotland. The robot is designed to help astronauts perform a wide range of tasks in space using its gripper hands, sensors and cameras in head and chest.