Artificial Intelligence: Advancing Space Exploration

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Space travel is fundamentally a marvel of engineering, so it is no surprise that artificial intelligence is helping advance our exploration of the universe. Artificial intelligence already assists space travel technologies in myriad ways. It helps scientists classify imagery from astronomical surveys. It helps the Curiosity rover choose which Martian soil and rock samples to investigate. It steers SpaceX’s self-landing rockets.

Recently, artificial intelligence in space has started becoming more life-like, as is happening here on Earth. Scientists have sent CIMON, a robot with artificial intelligence, to help astronauts on the International Space Station. Someday soon, it is possible that artificial intelligence-powered robots will provide space travelers with meaningful companionship.

One organization that focuses on the future of artificial intelligence in space travel is FAIR-SPACE Hub, led by the University of Surrey. FAIR-SPACE addresses key challenges in space robotics and autonomous systems, and it has over 30 international partners.

Filling Space spoke with Professor Yang Gao, FAIR-SPACE’s director, to learn more about the organization.

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How does FAIR-SPACE manage competing priorities for developing future AI and robotics technologies to support space activity?

FAIR-SPACE’s R&D program is use-inspired and industry-defined, hence we focus on UK priorities identified by industry or commercial sector.

What are some of the more exciting future technological developments and how will they impact normal people’s lives?

The two key drivers in space AI robotics development are: 1) diversification of mobility (or locomotion capability) and; 2) the increase in onboard autonomy. Advancing artificial intelligence with regards to these two areas improves the reliability and productivity of future space missions. Such advances can help robotic factories operate 24/7 in orbit or build infrastructure on the Moon or Mars for human arrival and permanent habitation.

Given your own career history, what opportunities do you think exist for individuals seeking to enter the field?

There are always academic and R&D opportunities in existing space sectors which are growing. A host of emerging topics will drive opportunities growing in the academic, industry and private sectors. These include space architecture, law, tourism, and others.