Projects related to space and its exploration all over the world are using AI, or artificial intelligence. These programs complete a variety of functions and have allowed for all kinds of new discoveries and research.
The earliest conceptions of AI, like the concept of machine learning in Isaac Asimov’s The Last Question and Harlan Ellison’s demented and twisted AM in I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, imagined A.I. in both its best and worst potentials. These machines were capable of incredible power that is difficult to imagine.
While Siri has yet to surpass Samantha’s personality and ingenuity in Her (2013), scientists and researchers have made amazing bounds in the field of artificial intelligence. The existence of such software means that the limits of the human mind have been lifted.
So, how is A.I. being used in space exploration right now?
Scientists around the world have adopted artificial intelligence to address many of the problems faced in space exploration. From the automation of our rovers to the potential of A.I.-based companions, there are some incredible advancements being made in the field of artificial intelligence.
Keep reading to see what those advancements look like and what they’re doing.
Artificial Intelligence in Exoplanet Research
One of the leading fields exploring the potentials of artificial intelligence is exoplantetology, which is the study dedicated to the identification and research of exoplanets.
Prior to the advent of artificial intelligence, scientists relied on their own ability to read and interpret the reports coming from telescopes and satellites like the Hubble. These reports varied in content but a common method of looking for exoplanets was to look at spectrographs of distant stars.
This particular method of looking for exoplanets can be time-consuming.
However, a student with the University of Texas has altered a convolutional neural network called AstroNet-K2 to help with the hunt.
A convolutional neural network is a program that receives and processes information similarly to how our eyes do. While that’s a very basic explanation, it does explain the significance of AstroNet-K2.
This form of artificial intelligence can sift through enormous amounts of data, sometimes millions of pictures, and identify patterns that are commonly associated with exoplanets.
Unfortunately, it’s not fully independent. AstroNet-K2 still relies on human intervention to ensure that its predictions are accurate.
Probe and Rover Automation using Artificial Intelligence
A.I. has also been able to alleviate some of the burdens that fall on researchers and scientists when it comes to our probes and rovers.
Curiosity, arguably one of NASA’s most beloved projects, is a “small” rover on Mars with several different systems automated by artificial intelligence. This allows for research to continue, even when Curiosity is out of range and researchers aren’t available to instruct it.
One of its key A.I. programs is AutoNav. AutoNav was first developed by JPL and tested on the Deep Space 1 project in 1998.
AutoNav, in its early days, was used by spacecraft to track the relative position of asteroids. This tracking allowed the craft to determine if it was where it was supposed to be and then correct if needed.
Much like AstroNet-K2, this program lightened some of the burdens that fell on other programs and researchers, requiring less time and energy to run the project successfully. It also made work for the rover happen much faster.
With Curiosity, humans still tell the rover where it needs to go but they allow AutoNav to decide how the rover will get there. AutoNav also tracks exactly how far Curiosity has gone.
The program has advanced a lot since the Deep Space 1 project.
Artificially Intelligent Companions in Space
This particular subject sounds more fiction-than-fact, but DLR Space Administration, Airbus, and IBM have worked together to develop a rudimentary-form of support companion for astronauts aboard the ISS.
Initially called CIMON, this adorably-simple robot was equipped with several small fans to allow it to navigate while aboard the shuttle. While there, it was designed to assist the astronauts aboard with their work.
For example, CIMON could show an astronaut how to complete a particular project by showing diagrams and images on its screen.
In April 2020, CIMON-2 was launched. An improvement of its predecessor, CIMON-2 is planned to stay aboard the ISS for three years. During this time, it will continue to help the astronauts and gather information for the researchers that designed it.
Its primary focus is to research the “impact of stress and isolation on long-term missions” and explore the intricacies of human-machine interaction.
What’s Next for Artificial Intelligence?
With these projects in the works, it’s not difficult to imagine what could be next for the field of artificial intelligence. The idea of a robotic companion is definitely charming but does that have any real-world implications?
AI-based robots could potentially remove the need for human space exploration, allowing us to see worlds far outside of what our bodies can handle.
Think Huygens with legs.
An AI capable of physical exploration could also be sent into deep space on voyages that would take hundreds of years to complete. While we’re probably a long way off from launching a craft that can travel quickly outside of our solar system, it’s an important concept to consider.
And maybe, if we’re lucky, artificial intelligence will answer some of our most pressing questions.