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NASA selects MSU professor to build artificial “brain” for asteroid mining spacecraft

NASA has selected Michigan State University professor Chris Adami to help design and build an artificial intelligence for a fleet of asteroid-mining spacecraft.

The spacecraft are small in size, some weighing as little as a few pounds. Where a traditional spacecraft would be equipped with antennae to communicate and receive instructions from mission control, these tiny spacecraft are not large enough to host the equipment and will be left to make their own decisions.

The spacecraft will operate independently between Mars and Jupiter. In order to safely work, they must be able to infer the correct shape of an asteroid from sparse measurements. “[Adami’s project] is designed to address challenges associated with navigation around asteroids and precision targeting of asteroid surface locations for sample collection,” said NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley.

Adami, a world-renowned expert on Darwinian evolution, will build them an artificial “brain” to address those challenges. “These spacecraft will require brains that can make autonomous decisions with the intelligence similar to that of a small animal,” Adami told MSU Today. “Our goal is to evolve the brains on Earth using simulated asteroid shapes.”

To teach the “brains,” Adami will partner with Dante Lauretta, professor of science and cosmoschemistry at University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, and leader of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Asteroid Sample Return mission. Lauretta’s team, experts in asteroid modeling, will generate training sets of sample imaging for Adami to use.

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