Space Debris: How Artificial Intelligence can play critical role in clearing it

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Published: June 27, 2019 8:05:43 PM

With the human dependence on space technology increasing at a great speed, the traffic to space has become as congested as traffic on the roads than ever before.

Whenever a junk is created in space, it becomes a high speed projectile (whatever may be the size due to high speeds involved) with a destructive capability.

With the human dependence on space technology increasing at a great speed, the traffic to space has become as congested as traffic on the roads than ever before.

According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, there are currently over 20,000 pieces of debris larger than 10 centimeters, and these include both inactive satellites and discarded rocket parts which are hurtling around in Earth’s orbit. This creates and increases a larger risk of damaging collisions every year.

At the G-20 Summit which is starting tomorrow in Osaka, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will lead discussions on Space Debris and the establishment of international rules for a sustainable future in space.

Sharing his views with Financial Express Online, Artificial Intelligence and C4I expert, Milind Kulshreshtha says, “Space debris causes the Kessler’s Syndrome and, with space race being joined by more and more nations, needs to be addressed as a grave issue. Every junk created by Earth launched items in near-earth space are a major concern, as satellites have started playing a central role in everyday activities for us.”

Whenever a junk is created in space, it becomes a high speed projectile (whatever may be the size due to high speeds involved) with a destructive capability. “Now, the creation of each debris component is usually known to the scientific community and Artificial Intelligence (AI) can help to create synthetic tracks for each of them for tracking and monitoring,” Kulshreshtha explains.

The AI is required due to the volume of processing required for thousands of pieces, which do not decay the way it happens on Earth. According to him, “Once tracked, with AI engine training bringing in more accuracy, a ‘netting’ probe with an extended arm to collect debris can be positioned in the path of debris to be cleaned, and these collected. This kind of operations has to be AI based since is entails high risk and greater accuracy.”

Also, since this debris collected needs to be disposed off, the mission can be allocated to onboard AI to calculate the ‘throw’ into space trajectory to jettison these items and this work shall be a continuous activity which has to be independently handled by AI-based robotic probes stationed in space.

According to the AI expert, the Rules of Road for space craft orbiting the Earth shall also be part responsibility of such ‘policing’ probes in the future.

Often when satellites are retired from useful service, many remain in orbit for a long time before they perish and this adds to the growing debris. Usually, the satellites move down to lower orbits and burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.

When satellites are designed, the operators are able to choose which altitude to use, and for how long their spacecraft will operate. This means that they are solely responsible for designing their satellites in such a way that once they are dead there should be less waste in the orbit of the Earth.

To address the critical issue of space debris, the World Economic Forum Global Future Council on Space Technologies, has developed the concept of a voluntary system, the Secondary Surveillance Radar (SSR) in an effort to encourage those who operate satellites to create as little debris as possible.

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