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Out-of-this-world spacecraft parts: NASA designs with AI

Feb. 16, 2023.
1 min. read Interactions

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Lewis Farrell

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NASA is designing specialized spacecraft parts known as “evolved structures” in as little as an hour or two using commercially available AI software. The evolved structures are intended to be more durable, lighter, and require less assistance from humans. According to Ryan McClelland, the research engineer who pioneered the design of these parts, the evolved structures can save up to two-thirds of the weight and reduce the risk of failure when compared to standard components. Starting with the mission requirements, the AI software draws the surfaces where the part connects to the instrument or spacecraft, and a computer-assisted design specialist draws the surfaces where the part connects to the instrument or spacecraft. The AI software then connects the dots to create complex structure designs.

While AI software can generate complex designs, McClelland admits that algorithms require a human eye because human intuition knows what looks right, and the algorithm can sometimes produce structures that are too thin. The technology is currently being used in a number of NASA missions, including the EXoplanet Climate Infrared TElescope (EXCITE) mission, which is a balloon-borne telescope that studies hot Jupiter-type exoplanets orbiting other stars. AI-assisted design at NASA could allow for the production of larger components in orbit or the construction of structures on the Moon or Mars using materials found there, advancing “In-space Servicing, Assembly, and Manufacturing” (ISAM) capabilities.


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