How AI is Changing the Nature of Space Exploration

Artificial intelligence has changed many areas of our lives. From getting our groceries ordered to making Alexa play our favorite tune, tasks usually carried out by us are now being performed by AI. More importantly, AI is adapting and it has brought us all closer to the stars.

AI is improving the way things work on the earth, but what about space?

It was never about replacing humans, rather making the work more efficient with the help of AI technology.

In recent times, there has been an increase in government support thus fueling rapid innovations of AI in space. Looking ahead, we believe the convergence of AI along with machine learning and other technology innovation will transform the entire space ecosystem, and for the better.

AI in Space Exploration: Is it just the Tip of the Iceberg?

The market value of space robotics was around USD 2 billion in 2018 and will grow to USD 3.5 billion by 2025, predicts a 2019 Global Market Insights, Inc. report.

Multiple companies have started developing AI-based robots – to manipulate benefits and increase mobility. The market is seen to experience a staggering development due to the amalgamation of AI technologies into the systems that have been developed for space exploration.

Although exploring space is limitless, danger still lurks around in the form of colossal galactic events, cosmic radiation, or earth-shattering meteors. The only way to explore space without interruptions is to be realistic about it, start making use of AI. Artificial intelligence can change life for astronauts. There are many tasks to perform in space an AI can easily take the load off an astronaut’s feet.

And the best part? They’re robots. None of the human lives would be in danger.

How NASA utilizes AI for Space Exploration?

In 2018, NASA granted near about USD 330,000 to a research team to develop AI agile guide that will help spacecraft navigate in regions with debris. Nonetheless, NASA is investing a lot in AI space exploration and will continue to do so. We will further talk about how NASA is planning on taking us to the stars.

  • Celestial Navigation

For instance, if you’re outside the earth’s network – GPS satellite, no technology can help navigate your way back. Therefore, if an astronaut is lost in space, there’s no way you could find them. With the help of AI, researchers are inventing ways to help the Artemis astronauts find their way back to the lunar surface.

Astronauts will be able to take pictures of their surroundings and feed them in the database containing millions of images of the moon’s surface. This is where AI plays its part, the technology will try to match the image with the database and convey the message to the astronaut telling them their exact location on the moon.

Celestial objects images
©Gao et al., 2018

Though this technology relies on machine learning, it will still be able to create a virtual moon for the astronauts to navigate.

  • Interstellar Communication

The only way astronauts communicate with the earth is through radio waves. This works perfectly fine when contacting the International Space Station since it is in a low orbit. However, this won’t suffice to make contacts in real-time as the astronauts move further into the cosmos.

The delay is barely noticeable for Artemis astronauts on the moon. It may take nanoseconds or maybe 1.27 seconds for the message to be delivered or sent. However, when they’re on Mars or beyond, the timing may extend to 13 minutes or more for them to receive and send the message.

 interstellar satellite in space

With AI, underutilized portions of the electromagnetic spectrum used for communicating can be easily accessed. Since this isn’t used by any other existing communications technology. NASA can be rest assured their communication won’t be interfered with or disrupted.

  • Exploration of Medical Capability in Space

With frequent movements of astronauts between Earth and beyond the earth’s orbit, it is evident they will need medical help. Getting back to earth for a medical emergency is obviously not feasible, the reason why NASA started their work on Exploration Medical Capability. With the help of machine learning the “Exploration Medical Capability” will be able to come up with healthcare options according to the future needs of these astronauts.

Medical-Capability-in-space
Source: NASA

These healthcare options will be given by certified doctors and surgeons.

Exploration Medical Capability’s core focus is to take care of the wellbeing of the astronauts in space.

  • Self-driving Rover on Planet Mars

You’ve probably heard of self-driving cars, but what are self-driving rovers?

Well not only Tesla, Uber, or Google are well-known for their invention is self-driving cars. NASA came up with a technology for autonomous driving for planet Mars ten years ago. The technology is based on a machine learning driving system and navigation called the self-driving rovers, also called AutoNav. The AutoNav was utilized for Spirit and Curiosity which made its first landing in 2004 followed by another rover in 2011. 

Artist's Concept of Curiosity Rover
Source: NASA (Curiosity at Work on Mars -Artist’s Concept)

Curiosity still uses AutoNav to find water and other elements on Mars for humans to explore in the future.

We’re yet to unfold the potential of AI.

However, by 2035, it is predicted that humanoid robots powered by AI will be a significant part of our everyday life.

Is this the future of AI or is it bigger than what we cannot imagine?

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