Eytan Stibbe

AI and Space are on a Collision Course

AI in space (Image: stock)
AI in space (Image: stock)

One of the most fundamental principles in many scientific disciplines is the search for patterns. This is especially true for astronomy. Improving observational skills to discover patterns amidst mountains of data to try and prove theories is something that has defined the marks of great astronomers for generations.

Those exceptional skills that can seem superhuman are set to be amplified by recent advances in artificial intelligence (AI) systems. Arguably one of the hottest topics of conversation, I made sure to bring up the potential of AI and space exploration during a recent discussion with American astronaut Jessica Meir at the 12th Rona Ramon Education in Space Conference.

Utilizing AI in a variety of new technologies and processes related to space travel and exploration has only just begun to expand the human understanding of what lies far beyond our solar system, and the space industry itself.

AI has already proven to be beneficial in improving mission accuracy, enhancing decision-making processes, and analyzing data at a speed at which humans could previously only dream about. These benefits have helped lead teams around the world to make innovative and stellar discoveries to advance everyone’s further understanding of space. But exactly which of these systems are helping scientists with the mysteries of space?

AI and ML for the Cosmos

In its simplest definition, AI is the simulation of complex human decision-making in machines or mechanized systems. While not fully human, the responses created by an AI system can mimic that of a natural person. A subfield of study in AI is Machine Learning (ML).

Machine learning concerns itself with utilizing statistical data to search for patterns. Combining ML and AI processes with NASA’s observation systems can enhance the speed and precision with which data is translated and organized. Further organization and a machine-like precision to detail can help scientists see patterns not previously observable.

Applying the precision and adaptability of AI and ML systems is helping the scientific community in accomplishing massive operational advancements in space travel and autopilot navigation. In just the areas of celestial mechanics and the problems concerning the motion of rockets and other spacecraft, artificial intelligence is already establishing itself as an outstandingly helpful tool for the space industry.

The Most Exciting Uses for AI in Space

AI has proven to have some incredible advantages to further enhance industrial capabilities.

As scientists construct more powerful engines and rockets, AI is helping fine-tune launch landing equipment, such as 3D printed rockets. When it comes to planetary exploration, ML systems are assisting the Mars Rovers in navigating the harsh and crater-filled terrain during their exploratory missions. Across all planets, AI is being used to help map the universe and recognize clusters of stars and other unique points of interest deep in space.

How Else Does AI Help in Space Exploration?

With something as vast and limitless as space, AI has proven to be just as limitless with its practical applications to space exploration. Due to the sheer enormity of space, there is a constant stream of data being received that requires fast processing.

It’s also being utilized to automate robotic planetary missions and operations as well as in systems geared toward improving and sustaining astronaut health while out in space.

Why Use AI in Space?

Even though artificial intelligence has proven helpful, why should it be used? Just because something ‘can’ doesn’t mean something ‘should’. However, in the case of AI, there are multiple reasons why we, as people, should continue to pursue using it more in our mission to explore the solar system and beyond.

With its precision and efficiency in handling complex tasks, AI systems are proving to be accurate companions and integral parts of modern space missions. The ability of these systems to recognize patterns, even small ones, amidst large amounts of data, is a massive benefit to scientific research teams.

Artificial intelligence programs able to monitor processes, are able to help maintain and repair space vehicles while in transit. They can also help allocate and maximize the usage of valuable resources and even monitor, in real-time, different safety systems that may require immediate maintenance.

NASA Astronaut, Jessica Meir, pointed out that robots and AI can cover large amounts of ground as a precursor to exploration in a certain area, getting the ‘layout of the land’ before sending in a human.

Mindful of Limitations

As future users and consumers of AI, we must be mindful of the limitations that are currently faced by these technologies. With the continued widespread adoption of AI, there comes an increased risk of external hacking attempts. Unauthorized access to AI systems can have dangerous effects, such as signal blocking, satellite interference and takeover, and even the permanent destruction of complex and valuable systems and equipment.

There is also fear of AI outpacing human intelligence and understanding. With its ability to learn and grow, there is a realistic fear that artificial intelligence could exceed a human’s decision-making ability and knowledge. If this became the case, we would have no option but to curtail the growth or understanding of the later processes which the AI decided to adapt, based on what it was experiencing in the operational environment where it was installed.

Finally, a gap exists in the development of space laws and regulations and how AI systems interact within them. As people further spread out into deep space, rules and regulations will need to be established to prevent it from becoming a barren and lawless wasteland where anyone can assert control.

AI: The Future of Space

With AI’s already impressive list of accomplishments in the space industry, it’s only a matter of time before artificial intelligence completely transforms and enhances the landscape of space travel and exploration. This advancement in science and technology has completely transformed how humans have studied the stars and what may lie past the border of the expansive cosmos. This invaluable tool has undoubtedly helped us at the beginning of our mission to understand the stars.

NASA Astronaut Jessica Meir’s overall point of view is that while there is certainly a place for robots, AI and ML in terms of space exploration and technology, there will always be a necessity for humans to be involved.

People can imagine, we can dream and therefore we possess the necessary creativity to think outside the box – beyond a rigid set of outlined programming. Our humanity breeds curiosity, which in term will always be the ultimate catalyst for discovery and exploration.

About the Author
Impact investor, philanthropist and pilot, Eytan Stibbe was the second Israeli astronaut to ever go to space. As a crew member of the Ax-1 mission, in April 2022, Eytan spent 17 days on the International Space Station. Together with the Ramon foundation and the Israeli Space Agency, a work plan was assembled and called the RAKIA mission. It included experiments in medicine, earth observation, production in space as well as educational programs and art, all under the banner “There is no dream beyond reach”.
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