NASA begins using AI to design spacecraft components for its missions

NASA  has started using AI to create new parts for its spacecraft for use in future missions.


NASA  is also adding to the current rush for artificial intelligence and has revealed the implementation of this technology to design spacecraft components and hardware for the future missions it is preparing. Using a system created by AI , the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has already managed to create a part for one of their vehicles using this method.

According to what the US space agency indicated in the publication of its official page , the parts created by this AI system weigh less, tolerate greater structural loads and require a fraction of the time it takes to develop parts designed by humans.

“They look kind of alien and weird, but once you see them in action, it really makes sense ,” said Ryan McClelland , lead research engineer on the project.

An initiative with AI from NASA

McClelland pioneered the design of unique, specialized parts using off-the-shelf AI software at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center , producing hardware he has dubbed “evolved structures.” “You can design, analyze and manufacture a prototype part, and have it in hand in as little as a week. It can be radically fast compared to how we are used to working ,” said the researcher.

To design these complex structures, a computer-assisted (CAD) specialist builds on mission requirements and draws the surfaces where the part connects to the instrument or spacecraft , as well as bolts and fittings for electronics and other hardware. The designer may also need to plot a path so that the algorithm does not block a laser beam or optical sensor. Finally, more complex constructions may require spaces in which the technicians’ hands can maneuver for assembly and alignment.

“Algorithms need the human eye. Human intuition knows what looks right, but if left to its own devices, the algorithm can sometimes make structures too thin ,” McClelland said .

A great help in NASA missions

McClelland ‘s evolved components have been adopted by NASA missions at various stages of design and construction, including balloon astrophysical observatories, scanners of Earth’s atmosphere, planetary instruments, space weather monitors, space telescopes, and even the return mission of samples from Mars to Earth

Peter Nagler , a physicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center , turned to evolved structures to help develop the EXoplanet Climate Infrared TElescope (EXCITE) mission , an aerostatic telescope developed to study hot Jupiter-like exoplanets orbiting other stars. EXCITE is under development and it is planned to use a near-infrared spectrograph to make continuous observations of each planet’s orbit around its host star.

A NASA long-duration superpressure balloon will lift the payload of the EXCITE mission with an engineering test flight in fall 2023.