How Australia is helping tackle the snowball threat of space debris
With this sharp view, astronomers can spot debris and advise countries and businesses to move their spacecraft, satellites or astronauts out of harm’s way. They also plan to use another high-powered laser to shoot small pieces of debris – the pressure from the laser slowing the debris down so that it lowers its orbit toward Earth, hits the upper atmosphere, and eventually burns on re-entry.
Australia plays an important role in this global problem, as we monitor vast skies with space technologies few others in the southern hemisphere possess.
Avoid Kessler syndrome
It is vital that we avoid causing more space waste. Since the 1950s, we have sent thousands of rockets, satellites and various objects into space. This number is growing exponentially. This year alone, SpaceX set a record for the number of satellites sent into space on a single rocket: 143.
Given our reliance on space and the incredible potential of satellite technology, we can’t expect countries and companies to stop sending satellites into orbit, and we shouldn’t want to. . But as space becomes more and more populated, we will no longer be able to rely on human reaction to move satellites and the International Space Station out of the way. More collisions will cause more debris and the avalanche will eventually start.
But what if the satellites could move away?
Artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to create a system of satellites that are smarter than their predecessors, able to avoid debris and stay whole and operational.
However, if these AI-enabled satellites can’t work together, the worst-case scenario could see them catalyze the very disaster we’re trying to avoid. A satellite avoiding a single screw could move, causing another satellite to move and another until a domino effect causes collisions – perhaps in the International Space Station, our slowest asset. and the home of our astronauts.
Swinburne University of Technology has partnered with the EY Professional Services Network (formerly Ernst & Young) and their Space Technology and AI Manager for Oceania, Dr Olivia Sackett, the research arm and engineering in data science from CSIRO, Data 61, and the Australian space industry consortium SmartSat CRC to develop an industry standard for AI in space, so that systems from different owners can operate in the same space, literally.
The project, titled ‘Responsible AI in Space’, is a collaboration between space scientists, legal and policy experts, the space industry, government and practitioners in the emerging field of AI insurance. .
AI assurance is all about maximizing the benefits and minimizing the damage associated with AI-enabled systems. The team will create a framework that businesses, satellite operators, regulators and insurers can use to assess the reliability of AI-based systems in space.
Responsible AI is the final new frontier in space – and it may be our last hope to preserve it, too.
Professor Alan Duffy is an astronomer and director of the Space Technology and Industry Institute at Swinburne University of Technology.
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