European Space Agency teaching artificial intelligence to avoid space junk

Artificial intelligence - Space Junk around Earth

The new AI-driven system is being developed to help reduce the risk of orbital collision.

The European Space Agency (ESA) is working on a system using artificial intelligence that will help to be able to avoid collisions with the rapidly growing amount of space junk littering the near-Earth environment.

European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) spacecraft controllers conduct maneuvers every 2 weeks.

These ESOC maneuvers are required every couple of weeks in order to keep equipment safe from collision threats from orbiting space junk. The controllers out of Darmstadt, Germany are protecting their 20 low Earth orbit Satellites, according to an ESA news report.

That said, the number of close encounters is rising, and the teams must monitor and evaluate about 5 times as many close encounters as the number of maneuvers they conduct. They have requested a multi-disciplinary team to be on call 24/7 for several days at a time in order to keep the equipment safe. Now, the hope is that new artificial intelligence systems will help to conduct the maneuvers itself, to reduce the requirement for the additional all-day staffing.

The artificial intelligence may help to provide savings of both fuel consumption and preparations.

“Every collision avoidance maneuver is a nuisance,” said Holger Krag, head of the ESA’s Space Debris Office. “Not only because of fuel consumption but also because of the preparation that goes into it. We have to book ground-station passes, which costs money, sometimes we even have to switch off the acquisition of scientific data. We have to have an expert team available round the clock.”

There is every reason to believe that the frequency of these events will steadily rise. Moreover, it’s important to note that not all collision alerts are from space debris pieces. Massive companies such as Amazon, SpaceX and OneWeb have been constructing and launching thousands of satellites into mega-constellations, adding more orbiting spacecraft every month than used to be the case for an entire year, said a recent report.

Artificial intelligence - Space Junk around EarthAll that additional orbiting traffic is concerning to space debris experts and the ESA is hoping to use artificial intelligence to help mitigate this rapidly rising risk. The goal is for the AI system to make it possible for equipment to automatically dodge space degree, or to at least reduce the pressure on the human teams.

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