How do you fix a satellite’s instrument that’s floating 22,000 miles above the Earth’s surface?
That’s a question NASA Frontier Development Lab (FDL) was asked to address when one of its space weather observing satellites ran into problems. This satellite was the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), which is used to study the Sun and its impact on space weather. This is important for all sorts of reasons — since solar storms can knock out GPS satellites, shut down electrical grids, and scramble communications.
Unfortunately, one of the SDO’s three instruments, responsible for measuring ultraviolet light, stopped working due to a fault. This data is essential to satellite operators. Not properly compensating for atmospheric changes due to ultraviolet light may cause satellites to fall out of orbit and burn up or crash.
A repair mission was not in the cards. Instead, NASA FDL posed the problem to its early career professionals in Space Weather and A.I. to see if they could solve the problem from Earth using cutting-edge artificial intelligence. The request? Could they figure out how to use data from the SDO’s remaining two instruments — its atmospheric imaging assembly and helioseismic and magnetic imager — to work out the missing extreme ultraviolet radiation sensor measurements. The answer from a team made up of researchers from IBM, the SETI Institute, Nimbix, Lockheed Martin, and academia: Apparently, yes.