A SCOTTISH university is set to lead a global project looking to improve sustainability and safety in space.

Glasgow's University of Strathclyde Aerospace Centre for Excellence is leading researchers from across Europe, the US, Canada and Australia on the project. 

By predicting the motion of objects in space, researchers hope the project reduces collision risks for defunct space objects and improves safety in space flight. 

Through accelerating AI development, the project aims to “enable any future space activity” by understanding the use of space, Massimiliano Vasile, the director of the university's Aerospace Centre of Excellence said.

“A key goal is to develop robust and reliable AI systems for space safety,” Vasile added. “Everything that happens in space has uncertainty attached so systems need to be trustworthy.”

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Vasile compared the project to self-driving cars, stating that increasing the automation of objects will help avoid collisions.

Millions of unused man-made objects orbit the Earth. Almost 37,000 measure larger than 10 cm and approximately 130 million measure less than one cm, according to the UK Space Agency. 

Currently, the space sector is not sustainable because of the number of materials that are launched.

Using AI could assist countries and companies with understanding the consequences of launching materials, and the impact it can have on the space environment.

“When countries decide on policies to licence new missions they need to understand the global impact of that mission on the space environment - insurance companies also need to understand the global impact to quantify how risky it is,” Vasile said. 

AI also allows researchers from the Centre for Signal & Image Processing (CeSIP) at Strathclyde to gain insight on the behaviour of space objects, making it easier to identify objects in space and know what they are doing.

The project marks the creation of a virtual Institute on AI for Space Safety & Sustainability.

The project, which is entering its second stage, is funded by the UK Space Agency through the International Bilateral Fund.

The research is a collaboration between the University of Strathclyde, University of Arizona, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the University of Waterloo in Canada, The Alan Turing Institute and commercial space companies in the UK (LMO and GMV), Australia (Nominal Systems) and Canada (Columbiad).