ESA, European Defence Agency (EDA) to Jointly Explore AI, Drone Projects

Space-based services have fast become essential to Europe’s safety and security. In 2017, a previous European Space Agency – European Defence Agency Implementing Agreement demonstrated the use of space-based assets to respond to threats from toxic and hazardous materials, announced in a press release today.

Innovation in disaster response

The project showed that space systems were beneficial to fast and accurate response to such threats in terms of situational awareness, early warning, detection and response planning.

Based on this success, the two agencies decided to extend their cooperation in this area, and last month signed an implementing agreement to carry out a next-stage demonstration project called Autonomous Drone Services (AUDROS).

This robotic arm, attached to a 33 m track is ESA’s GNC Rendezvous, Approach and Landing Simulator. Part of the Agency’s Orbital Robotics and Guidance, Navigation and Control Laboratory, GRALS is used to simulate close approach and capture of uncooperative orbital targets, such as drifting satellites or to rendezvous with asteroids. (Photo courtest: ESA)

By integrating space assets in sectors such as telecommunications, navigation and Earth observation, the partners will demonstrate the benefits of using autonomous and/or remotely piloted aerial vehicles to both detect toxic material and carry out rapid response to large-scale disasters. This activity will lead to the development of operational services that will deliver support to defence and security users on a permanent basis, ESA added.

Flying into the unknown

ESA and the EDA are also cooperating in the development of new AI-based capabilities in the field of guidance, navigation and control (GNC) – knowing where an asset is and steering where it is going. Advanced, autonomous GNC is set to become an indispensable element of ambitious future space missions such as rendezvousing with asteroids and comets or the active removal of hazardous space debris from orbit.

This joint project, dubbed ATENA, will develop AI-based systems with the capability of flying safely over unknown territory, such as an asteroid, to achieve enhanced navigation performance compared to current vision-based techniques based on feature tracking.


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