Exploring how advanced cloud, AI and machine learning can be used in space and to create bold new solutions for terrestrial challenges
Microsoft has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the University of Adelaide’s Australian Institute for Machine Learning, to jointly explore how advanced cloud computing, AI, computer vision and machine learning can be applied in space, beyond Earth’s surface.
‘Project AI Off Earth’ will focus on the cutting edge of innovation in space. It will conduct modelling, emulation and simulation of complex space operations and systems; build algorithms for on-board satellite data processing; develop solutions for the remote operation and optimisation of satellites, constellations and swarms; and address space domain awareness and debris monitoring.
The University of Adelaide’s Australian Institute for Machine Learning (AIML) is ranked among world leaders in the application of AI, computer vision and machine learning to real world problems. Microsoft has deep experience in advanced cloud computing and cognitive systems and is building Azure Space, a set of cloud offerings which allow organisations to leverage geospatial data, access anywhere bandwidth, digitally engineer space systems, and engage in remote edge computing – including in space.
The University of Adelaide’s Professor Tat-Jun Chin is the SmartSat CRC Professorial Chair of Sentient Satellites at the Australian Institute for Machine Learning.
“The relationship with Microsoft will give us access to cloud-based platforms that will allow us to focus on the investigation on the performance of algorithms used to analyse large amounts of earth-observation data from satellites, without needing to be concerned about gaining access to space at the onset,” he said.
“Our work on these algorithms has the potential to contribute to many applications, including agricultural land management, water management, mining practices and understanding of economic activity among many other applications.
“AIML’s vision is to be global leaders in machine learning research, and high impact research translation. To penetrate the global market we need to collaborate with international partners and this relationship with Microsoft presents the opportunity to do that.”
Nicholas Moretti, Azure Space Engineer, Microsoft Australia said; ”I first got exposed to the space industry while I was studying for my undergraduate degree at the University of Adelaide and crossed paths with Professor Chin,” he said.
Moretti, who is now based at Adelaide’s innovation precinct, Lot Fourteen, added; “We are delighted to be working with AIML and believe this will help identify important opportunities to use these technologies and capabilities to support agriculture and ecology, economics and financial systems as well as the burgeoning space sector itself.
“Although focused on in-space technologies, Project AI Off Earth will explore how space related technologies and data, and cognitive systems can be used to support automation of multiple different industries, help establish smart cities, as well as address sustainability and important environment challenges.”
AIML and Microsoft are already collaborating using Microsoft Azure Orbital Emulator – a cloud-based native space emulation environment that enables massive satellite constellation simulations. Using Azure Orbital Emulator, AIML and Project AI Off Earth can quickly develop, evaluate, and train algorithms, machine learning models and AI intended for space without need to launch a single satellite.
“The University of Adelaide undertakes world-leading research in the space sector, as well as many other fields, which aims to find solutions to the challenges facing society,” said the University of Adelaide’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Anton Middelberg.
“This exciting new relationship between the Australian Institute for Machine Learning and Microsoft will help AIML’s expertise to have an impact on a truly global scale.”
This important collaboration comes at a time of soaring interest in the space-related economy; the Australian Space Agency’s goal is to triple the space sector’s contribution to GDP to $12 billion and create an additional 20,000 jobs by 2030.
South Australian Minister for Trade and Investment, Stephen Patterson said; “Adelaide has established itself as the very heart of Australia’s space industry. This agreement between AIML and Microsoft, which is building a space team, is a signal of what’s to come. Australia has the opportunity to be a leading player in the global space industry and this sort of international collaboration – centred on Adelaide but with a truly global focus – will strengthen the local industry, help build skills in this important area and reinforce Adelaide’s reputation as the epicentre of space activity in this part of the world.”
AIML and Microsoft Azure Space also intend to use Project AI Off Earth to advocate for STEM careers, to advise on structuring of STEM traineeships and scholarships, and to encourage greater participation by women, underprivileged groups, and underrepresented groups.