IT services firm Fujitsu UK has announced a new project to optimise space junk removal using combined quantum-inspired computing and artificial intelligence.
In the partnership with the University of Glasgow, Amazon Web Services and Astroscale UK, the project will look to improve mission planning to allow a spacecraft to efficiently select pieces of space debris at a much faster rate than is currently possible.
The project comes less than a year after a major £1-million funding boost from the UK Space Agency to help combat the issue of space debris.
Fujitsu’s quantum and AI-powered Digital Annealer determines an “optimal route” to collect the debris, saving time and, in turn, improve commercial viability.
With 2,350 non-working satellites currently in orbit and more than 28,000 pieces of debris being tracked by Space Surveillance networks, the tech will help the UK to grow its market share in the space sector.
Additionally, the project will further support the UK Government’s commitment to a more sustainable future.
Commenting on the project, Dr Matteo Ceriotti, a Glasgow Uni Space Systems Engineering Lecturer, said: “The University of Glasgow has been involved in this project from the very outset – developing the trajectory models needed to effectively remove space debris, as well as estimating the cost of the transfers.
“The university has a long history of expertise in space trajectory design and optimisation, so we were keen to be at the forefront of any government-led initiatives to enhance the UK’s reputation in the space sector.
“With the help of Fujitsu, AWS and Astroscale UK, we’ve helped to overcome challenges in space debris removal to make future projects much more straightforward.”
Fujitsu, who spearheaded the project, is one of just seven UK companies to be awarded a share of the £1m to help track debris in space.
The UK Space Agency and Ministry of Defence have announced the next step in their joint initiative to enhance the UK’s awareness of events in space.
Scottish firm Skyrora has already started looking into space junk removal tech, successfully conducting trials of a ‘space tug’ which the company says could play a crucial role in tackling the issue of space debris.
The Scottish-based rocket company believes the Orbit Transfer Vehicle could clear debris, reposition satellites and remove defunct satellites from orbit.
Space debris removal is key to sustainability in space, reducing, or even preventing, the risk of obsolete spacecraft colliding with new and existing satellites, potentially creating thousands of other pieces of new debris posing a threat to working satellites in orbit.
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Ellen Devereux, Digital Annealer Consultant at Fujitsu UK & Ireland, said: “All space debris poses a potential collision risk to the operational systems many of us take for granted – from weather forecasting to telecommunications.
“With the UK Space Agency’s backing, along with Astroscale UK, AWS and the University of Glasgow, we have designed a solution to optimise the mission planning of a servicing craft before it is sent into space – meaning organisations like Astroscale UK can pick up more debris, more quickly than ever before.
“It not only makes the process much more cost-effective for those organisations needing to transfer and dispose of debris but utilises AI and quantum-inspired computing too.
“What we have learned over the course of the last six months, is that this technology has huge implications for optimisation in space; not only when it comes to cleaning up debris, but also in-orbit servicing and more. Now we better understand its potential, we can’t wait to see the technology applied during a future mission.”