UK Space Agency funding for project to develop AI for space safety and sustainability

The International Space Station

The University of Strathclyde has been awarded funding from the UK Space Agency to develop AI technologies that will enhance space safety and sustainability.

The money was awarded under the first phase of the UK Space Agency’s £20 million International Bilateral Fund investments, which is aimed at helping British organisations link up with the US, Canada, Australia, Japan, India, Singapore, South Africa and more to form collaborations that will progress space research and catalyse investment in new technologies.

The International Bilateral Fund is the Agency’s first fund dedicated to building and strengthening international relationships to help advance the UK’s goals in space. Strathclyde is one of only two Scottish universities and 32 projects to secure a share of the initial £2.1 million available from a total of 125 applications.

The ultimate goal of the AI for Space Safety and Sustainability project is to set up an International Institute on AI for Space Safety and Sustainability that will accelerate the development of AI technologies from concept, at early technology readiness levels, to adoption in the space sector.

Strathclyde will work with others including Arizona University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Waterloo and Canadian company Columbiad Launch Services Inc to lay the foundations of such an Institute.

Horizon scanning

Professor Massimiliano Vasile, Professor of Space Systems Engineering and Director of the Aerospace Centre of Excellence, in the Department of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering at Strathclyde, said: “The project aims to demonstrate the impact of a  selected number of emerging AI technologies on the sustainability of the space sector. This includes: Digital Operations Assistants, Space Object Classification and Characterisation, Space Object Behavioural Analysis, Collision Avoidance Automation, Autonomous Close Proximity Operations.

“However, there are many more areas of application in which AI can play a key role. Thus, during the study we will first perform a horizon scanning to establish which technologies can be adopted in the short term with maximum benefit to space sustainability. We will then work on some of them to escalate their technology readiness levels and bring them closer to adoption.”

This project builds on the international profile of the Aerospace Centre of Excellence and our unique capabilities in AI and Space Sustainability. It will position Strathclyde and the UK at the forefront of these fast-growing emerging areas with the potential to radically change the space sector.

Dr Paul Bate, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, said: “Working with other space agencies and organisations across the globe through our International Bilateral Fund allows us to draw on skills that enhance our homegrown expertise and capabilities, drive up investment in the UK, and support world-class science and discovery.

“Projects such as these highlight the many ways in which we can collaborate with the global space community to help humanity push the boundaries of space innovation and unlock commercial opportunities that will benefit our economy now and in the future.”

The Aerospace Centre of Excellence at Strathclyde develops frontier research on innovative concepts and solutions for present and future space systems, aerospace transport, space exploration, satellite applications and the sustainable exploitation and exploration of space.