NASA leverages public and private partnerships for space science with AI boost

NASA leverages public and private partnerships for space science with AI boost

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The NASA Frontier Development Lab (FDL) has announced it will apply artificial intelligence (AI) to four key space challenges. FDL is an AI/machine learning research accelerator powered by a public/private partnership between NASA, the SETI Institute, commercial leaders in AI, and pioneers in the private space industry.

Entering its third year, FDL is building on a successful track record by expanding its focus to four key research areas: Space Resources, Astrobiology, Exoplanets, and Solar Weather. The final results of FDL 2018 will be presented at Intel in Santa Clara on August 16th.

“This year, we have 50 phenomenally talented researchers and mentors from AI and the space sciences tackling these critical challenges to the space program,” said Dr. Dan Rasky, Chief, Space Portal, NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. “We’re excited that NASA is able to convene a group like this. AI is a game changer for space exploration and we’re looking forward to some fascinating results.”

There is mounting excitement around the potential for great progress within each of the designated challenge areas. According to Bill Diamond, President and CEO at the SETI Institute, “The NASA FDL researchers are taking on some fascinating challenges. For example, can we find a way to predict solar weather?

Can we get better at discovering new exoplanets and possibly even new forms of life? Can we enable multiple rovers to work together to effectively explore for resources like water on the moon?” Diamond continued, “These are great questions. We are excited to see some answers begin to emerge in this year’s program.”

NASA FDL is a compelling example of how public/private partnerships can yield significant results. Hosted at the SETI Institute, the NASA FDL program pairs researchers from the space sciences with data scientists for an intense eight-week concentrated sprint, supported by leaders in AI, such as Intel, Google, Kx Systems, IBM and NVIDIA and key players in private space such as SpaceResourcesLu, Lockheed Martin, KBRWyle and XPRIZE.

NASA FDL has consistently demonstrated the potential of applied AI to create useful results in accelerated time periods. According FDL Director James Parr, “We are proud of our achievements to date, and we expect even more from this year’s challenges.

NASA FDL researchers have shared their results at numerous professional conferences, in both the AI and space science domains, and papers from 2016 and 2017 are being published in peer-reviewed journals. Moreover, functioning AI workflows from FDL are being deployed on NASA funded activities – including detecting long period comets.”

The Frontier Development Lab is the latest NASA sponsored activity to push the boundaries of state-of-the-art in computing – specifically applied artificial intelligence – to assist in solving knowledge gaps in space science and exploration relevant to NASA and humankind.

The space program and computing have a long history of advancement for mutual benefit. The push for miniaturization in the late 60’s, helped catalyze the development of the microprocessor which took humanity to the Moon. The Apollo Moonshots were also responsible for error-free software architectures which made computers reliable in deep space, but also credible everyday tools. More recently, NASA originated ‘camera-on-a-chip’ technology resides inside many smartphones and now, self-driving cars.