The adoption of Artificial Intelligence / Machine Learning techniques in space can result in important steps forward for a wide range of applications, such as AI-powered assistants for medical care, research, evaluation and support of crew activities, Big Science Data processing, autonomous spacecraft and vehicles, and countless more, opening new portals into what the future could look like.
Implementing AI/ML capabilities in space brings a series of advantages, such as simplified infrastructure (on ground and in orbit) and reduced overall mission costs, while extending mission life and scope by allocating resources in an ‘intelligent’ manner. New research or technologies making use of AI-ML techniques may avoid to internally implement certain ‘traditional’ capabilities in hardware or to exchange large amount of data with ground. Also existing equipment could be “retro-fitted” in terms of in-situ (and combined) data elaboration.
While Earth observation, satellite communication and navigation are the early adopters of such capabilities, given the need to rapidly analyse massive amounts of data and optimise power consumption, there is immeasurable untapped potential in other segments of activity. The injection of AI/ML along with other ‘exponential technologies’ into orbit will enhance our capabilities and unlock a myriad of new solutions, many in the realm of science fiction at the moment.
In science and research, AI will play a crucial role in providing Big/Fast real-time in-situ processing of data generated by a variety of experiments and activities, either in crewed platforms and habitats or fully-automated spacecraft. AI will enable a better understanding the effects of space and microgravity on matter, in all its forms, by deciphering models and patterns that are not easily observable. Thus, it opens new avenues for R&D in life sciences, biotech & pharma, agrifoodtech, material sciences and manufacturing, and virtually any situation that requires a boost in computational capability for problem solving or automation of complex tasks.
Nonetheless, becoming increasingly autonomous in space requires advanced AI and stronger human-machine partnerships. Robotic assistants and devices will provide crew support in all types of activities, ranging from health monitoring and medical care to augmenting operations onboard and outside space habitats. These new solutions would boost safety and quality of life in space, while decreasing dependence on ground control. Such partnerships would lead to the development of ‘smart’ astronaut gear (AI-powered suits and equipment) as well as ‘smart’ stations and habitats, capable of environmental control, anomaly and fault detection, maintenance and servicing, as well as sensory enrichment.
Future exploration programs in cislunar space and deep space will significantly benefit from all these advancements, enabling machines to perform more complex tasks in environments, places and situations that are potentially dangerous for humans or simply inaccessible.
These technological trends combined with the commercialisation of space activities will provide faster response, higher reliability and security, fostering better servicing of our increasingly complex global society and also fueling space exploration at an unprecedented scale. A robust Space Economy requires enhanced autonomy, adaptability and reliability, an evolution that can be achieved by harnessing the full potential of the unfolding Fourth Industrial Revolution. The era of AI-in-Space is only at dawn.
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