Advancing Earth Management Through Neuromorphic Computing Powered Satellites

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13 May, 2024

Credit: Pexels//SpaceX

Credit: Pexels//SpaceX

Remote satellite maintenance is crucial to critical data acquisition and global communication

Continual advancements in space technology are reshaping our capacity to manage Earth's affairs with precision and efficiency. Amidst the complexities of urbanization, climate change, and global connectivity, the need for sophisticated infrastructure has become increasingly apparent. 

Satellites, with advanced functionalities, have emerged as indispensable tools for data acquisition, analysis, and communication, which are crucial for informed decision-making on Earth.

With their high-resolution cameras, multispectral sensors, and robust communication capabilities, we can capture and transmit data from a wide range of Earth-related activities, from urban planning and disaster management to agricultural monitoring and environmental protection.

By continuously orbiting the Earth, satellites capture detailed images and other sensor data covering the whole planet’s surface. We can use this data to track changes in landscapes, monitor weather patterns, and observe natural disasters like forest fires, floods, and hurricanes in real time.

This data is collected and transmitted back to Earth, where it can undergo rigorous analysis. Machine learning algorithms, data analytics, and other advanced computing techniques allow us to interpret the data with ease. For example, predictive modeling is utilized to forecast weather changes or track the migration patterns of endangered species. The ability to process real-time data enables quick decision-making, which is especially crucial during responses to natural disasters and emergencies. 

Communication is another critical functionality of satellites. They ensure communication lines are able to remain open, even in the most remote parts of the world. This facilitates global connectivity, allowing data, voice, and video communication to be transmitted across diverse geographical landscapes.

Maintenance in space

On Earth, if something breaks down in a factory or a power plant, we don’t build a replacement. Instead, we send a repair team with spare parts, and even better yet, we monitor the components' wear and replace them before they break down. This preventive maintenance approach minimizes downtime and reduces the costs associated with sudden breakdowns.

This methodology is critical in industries where reliability and uptime are essential. By continuously monitoring equipment health through sensors and predictive analytics, we can identify potential problems before they lead to operational failures. However, this approach faces unique challenges in space, where sending a repair team is not feasible due to the vast distances and extreme conditions.

The transition from Earth-based maintenance to space requires innovative solutions to overcome these challenges. The harsh space environment, including vacuum conditions, microgravity, and cosmic radiation, makes traditional maintenance methods impractical. Additionally, the delay in communication between Earth and spacecraft further complicates real-time interventions, necessitating a more autonomous approach to maintenance and repair operations in space.

ANT61 develops autonomous robots that enable the maintenance of satellites without the need to put human lives at risk. ANT61 is providing solutions for both: their Beacon product allows satellite operators to understand what went wrong with their satellites and restore them back to operation.

For larger and more expensive satellites, they are building robots that will dock, refuel, and, in the future, refurbish satellites, prolonging their useful life. At the core of these robots lies ANT61 BrainTM, the innovative devices that combine machine vision and decision-making technology, enabling the autonomy of these maintenance robots. Autonomy is very important as, due to the speed of light limitations, it won’t be possible to control every movement of these robots remotely from Earth.

BrainChip AkidaTM : A revolutionary neuromorphic processor for edge AI applications

The first generation of the ANT61 Brain uses the BrainChip AkidaTM chip for power-efficient AI and is currently on board the Optimus-1 satellite, which was deployed recently by the SpaceX Transporter-10 mission. ANT61 will test the ANT61 Brain later this year and perform training and evaluation of various neural networks that we will use for future in-orbit servicing technology demonstrations.

The BrainChip Akida™ chip is a groundbreaking advancement in neuromorphic computing, designed to mimic the neural architecture of the human brain. This technology stands out for its ability to process data directly at the point of acquisition, greatly enhancing efficiency by reducing the reliance on distant cloud-based systems for data processing.

Akida's unique capability lies in its event-based neural processor, which processes data only when needed, using data sparsity to significantly reduce the number of operations required. This leads to lower power consumption and heat dissipation, making it highly suitable for the demanding conditions of space. Each Akida node consists of four Neural Network Layer Engines (NPEs), which can be configured for various functions, such as convolutional layers or fully connected layers, and support incremental learning and high-speed inference. This configuration flexibility allows the chip to efficiently handle a wide range of AI tasks without needing constant connectivity or high power draw.

Akida's scalable architecture enables the chip to support up to 256 nodes in a mesh network, boosting computational power while maintaining a small footprint. This scalability is crucial for space applications where efficiency and performance are vital. The entire neural network can be embedded directly within the Akida fabric, eliminating the need for frequent data transfers that consume significant power and reduce system responsiveness.

Another key feature of the Akida chip is its on-chip learning capability, which allows it to adapt and improve its performance over time without external intervention. This feature is particularly beneficial in space, where conditions can change rapidly and autonomy is crucial. By processing and learning from data locally, Akida enhances the autonomy of satellite maintenance robots like those developed by ANT61, enabling them to perform complex tasks with minimal latency and enhanced reliability.

The ANT61 team chose to partner with BrainChip because they believe that neuromorphic technology will bring the same exponential improvement in AI as 20 years ago. The shift from CPU to GPU opened doors to deep neural network applications, which are at the core of all AI technologies today. Neuromorphic technology is also perfect for space: the lower power consumption means less heat dissipation, and we can get up to five times more computational power for the same electrical power budget.

Akida AKD1000 is a reference chip implemented with TSMC at 28nm

The ANT61 vision for the future

Humanity’s expansion to the cosmos requires infrastructure that can only be built by robots. With its in-orbit servicing experience, ANT61 aims to become the main supplier of the robotic workforce for Moon and Mars installations. This will enable companies from Earth to project their ambition to space, providing valuable services and resources for future off-world factories and cities.

Neuromorphic computing, exemplified by technologies like the BrainChip Akida™ chip, is set to play a pivotal role in this spacefaring era. This form of computing brings several advantages crucial for space applications, such as low power consumption, high efficiency, and the ability to perform complex computations needed for autonomy. By mimicking the human brain, neuromorphic processors can process large volumes of sensor data efficiently, making real-time decisions without the need to send data back to Earth for processing.

The integration of neuromorphic computing into space robotics promises to significantly improve these machines' capabilities. Robots equipped with advanced AI processors can better handle the unpredictable nature of space environments, adapting to new challenges autonomously and performing tasks ranging from construction to maintenance and repair. This capability ensures that space habitats are built efficiently and can be sustained with minimal human oversight.

ANT61's vision of utilizing these technologies to support human expansion into space reflects a forward-thinking approach that will not only facilitate the construction of off-world establishments but also ensure their long-term sustainability and success.