Fujitsu goes quantum on space debris problem

Written by: Andrew Wade | Published:
(Credit: Astroscale)

Fujitsu UK has merged quantum-inspired computing with artificial intelligence to develop an optimisation solution for the collection of space debris.

As each piece of space debris orbiting Earth is unique in size, orbit and rotational spin, the permutations for a spacecraft seeking to clean up multiple pieces of debris in a single mission are enormous. Working alongside Amazon Web Services, the University of Glasgow and space debris startup Astroscale UK, Fujitsu has developed a prototype computing platform that can perform extremely complex calculations in fractions of a second, working through various mission scenarios.

By carefully deciding which debris is collected and in what order, Fujitsu’s Digital Annealer technology optimises the mission plan to determine the minimum-fuel and minimum-time required to bring inoperable spacecrafts or satellites safely back to a disposal orbit. Finding the optimal route to collect debris will save significant time and cost during the mission planning phase, which will in turn improve commercial viability.

“We’ve 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,” said Ellen Devereux, Digital Annealer consultant at Fujitsu UK & Ireland.

“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’ve 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.”

The research has been carried out as part of the UK Space Agency grant “Advancing Research into Space Surveillance and Tracking”. It applies both Artificial Neural Network (ANN)-based rapid trajectory design algorithms - developed by the University of Glasgow - alongside Fujitsu’s Digital Annealer and Quantum Inspired Optimisation Services.

“This project is one of the first examples of quantum-inspired computing working with artificial intelligence to solve the problems space debris causes, but it's unlikely to be the last,” said Jacob Geer, head of Space Surveillance and Tracking, UK Space Agency.

“The UK is committed to ensuring the sustainability of space, and Fujitsu, working with Astroscale UK, The University of Glasgow and AWS, have demonstrated the real-world significance of keeping space uncluttered, assuring its accessibility for future generations.”

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