NASA scientists are planning to use artificial intelligence to better manage the increasing communications between its spacecraft and the Earth. NASA spacecraft typically rely on human-controlled radio systems to communicate with Earth. Cognitive radio, the infusion of artificial intelligence into space communications networks, could meet demand and increase efficiency, researchers said.
“Modern space communications systems use complex software to support science and exploration missions,” said Janette C Briones, from the NASA’s Glenn Research Center in the US. “By applying artificial intelligence and machine learning, satellites control these systems seamlessly, making real-time decisions without awaiting instruction,” said Briones.
Specific portions of the electromagnetic spectrum used for communications to various users. However, such channels are limited in number and can cause a bottleneck in the era of increasing communications.
Software-defined radios like cognitive radio use artificial intelligence to employ underutilised portions of the electromagnetic spectrum without human intervention.
These “white spaces” are currently unused, but already licensed, segments of the spectrum. A cognitive radio can use the frequency while unused by its primary user until the user becomes active again.
Cognitive radio switches from one white space to another, using electromagnetic spectrums as they become available.
“The recent development of cognitive technologies is a new thrust in the architecture of communications systems,” said Briones.
“We envision these technologies will make our communications networks more efficient and resilient for missions exploring the depths of space,” she said.
“By integrating artificial intelligence and cognitive radios into our networks, we will increase the efficiency, autonomy and reliability of space communications systems,” she said.
For NASA, the space environment presents unique challenges that cognitive radio could mitigate. Space weather, electromagnetic radiation emitted by the sun and other celestial bodies, fills space with noise that can interrupt certain frequencies.
“Glenn Research Center is experimenting in creating cognitive radio applications capable of identifying and adapting to space weather,” said Rigoberto Roche, from NASA.
“They would transmit outside the range of the interference or cancel distortions within the range using machine learning,” said Roche.
In the future, a NASA cognitive radio could even learn to shut itself down temporarily to mitigate radiation damage during severe space weather events. Adaptive radio software could circumvent the harmful effects of space weather, increasing science and exploration data returns.