15 December 2017 . 2 min read

To communicate with space, NASA seeks AI!

According to Constellation Research, a Silicon Valley tech research and advisory firm, the artificial intelligence market will exceed $100 billion by 2025. Private and public sector companies all over the world are pooling in mighty investments to this futuristic technology. Leading from the front is NASA, the renowned space agency.

Generally, NASA spacecraft relies on man-controlled radio systems to communicate with the Earth. But, as the collection of space data scales up, they are looking towards cognitive radio, the use of artificial intelligence into space communications networks, to satisfy demand and increase efficiency. In the words of Jeannette C. Briones, “By applying artificial intelligence and machine learning, satellites control these systems seamlessly, making real-time decisions without awaiting instruction”. To better comprehend the idea of cognitive radio, it is easier to start with ground level applications. For example, in the United States, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) provides electromagnetic spectrum for cellular services, satellite radio, Bluetooth, and Wifi etc. Now, imagine these frequency spectrum divided into a specific number of taps connected to a water main. Then, what happens when there are no taps left? How can a device use the electromagnetic spectrum when all the taps are taken? This is where the importance of cognitive radio comes in.


With the help of artificial intelligence, the cognitive radio can utilize underused portions of the electromagnetic spectrum without any human intervention. These unused spaces, known as the “white spaces” are already licensed segments of the whole spectrum. The FCC allows the cognitive radio to make use of the frequency while it remains unused by its primary user and until the user becomes mobile again. Coming back to the earlier example of a watering hole, cognitive radio utilizes water that would otherwise be wasted. So, when an authorized device stops using its frequency, the cognitive radio can utilize that user’s “tap” until the user needs it again!

It is obviously understandable that work in NASA is not a walk in the park. Space weather, electromagnetic radiation from the sun and other celestial objects fill space with noise that can obstruct some frequencies. Through incorporating technologies such as artificial intelligence and cognitive radio, NASA looks forward to making communications networks more efficient and adaptable to explore the depths of space.

Going forward, the NASA cognitive radio is even supposed to shut itself down to avoid radiation damage in case of severe space weather events. The cognitive radio network can also advocate different data paths to the ground and they can channel data through multiple channels simultaneously to avoid interference. Furthermore, an intelligent radio can adjust to new electromagnetic landscapes without any human assistance and foresee common operational settings for various environments. In short, space research is in for a revolution!

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