Students at Germany’s Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg (JMU) are to embark on a two-year project, dubbed KI-SENS, which aims to prevent nanosatellites from colliding in orbit using artificial intelligence.
The KI-SENS project centers around technology originally developed for the SONATE-2 satellite, a project of space technology professor Hakan Kayal and colleagues, which is designed for Earth observation work. SONATE-2 will join an ever-growing number of micro- and nanosatellites in orbit as research organizations and commercial ventures alike seek to capitalize on the “Space 2.0” revolution — but as their numbers grow, so too does the risk of two or more colliding and falling back to Earth.
20 students, including those pictured, aim to use AI to prevent nanosatellites from colliding in orbit. (📷: Tobias Herbst/Universität Würzburg)
A group of 20 students from the non-profit WüSpace association aims to tackle the problem using on-board artificial intelligence, though they’re not directly working as a team: instead, they’re operating independently in a project that aims to give them an overview of the entire process, from planning and project management to construction and testing — and, Kayal and colleagues hope, will result in technology to help keep satellites safe by detecting dangerous approaches and taking evasive action.
“We will develop intelligent, optical sensors, build a prototype and test it on the ground under realistic conditions,” research assistant Tobias Herbst explains. “On the ground,” though, means something different in space terms: the prototypes will go through testing using satellite dummies held aloft by drones, allowing the researchers to try out different approaches in-flight without the cost or risk of an actual orbital launch.
The project is funded for two years, with the first tests expected to take place next year; additional information on WüSpace’s work is available on the association’s website.
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