A wave of startups, companies, and governments is spearheading efforts to develop new chips capable of unleashing the power of artificial intelligence (AI) in space, marking a pivotal step forward for the space industry.

The significance of this endeavor cannot be overstated. Space’s harsh conditions have historically hindered the integration of AI onboard satellites, despite their critical role in the space economy. However, AI has the potential to drive growth in the space industry, which experts project to reach a staggering $1.8 trillion by 2035, rivaling the semiconductor industry.

Former NASA administrator Dan Goldin aptly describes the current state of the space industry as being in “the Dark Ages,” with computational tasks primarily relegated to data centers and mission control on Earth. However, he emphasizes the urgent need to integrate AI into space operations to propel the space industry forward.

AI and machine learning algorithms have long been instrumental in various space-related tasks, from analyzing astronomical data to optimizing satellite operations. However, the reliance on Earth-based processing has limited the efficiency and autonomy of satellite systems.

The growing number of satellites in space, coupled with the proliferation of onboard sensors, has intensified the need for autonomous navigation and real-time data processing to mitigate collision risks and manage space debris effectively.

Enterprises like Firefly Aerospace are pioneering digital platforms designed to support real-time data processing in orbit, facilitating autonomous satellite navigation empowered by AI. Similarly, Untether AI is developing advanced chips capable of processing large volumes of data onboard satellites with minimal power consumption, addressing the bandwidth limitations of Earth-based communication systems.

However, developing AI-enabled chips for space comes with its own set of challenges. Radiation, vacuum conditions, temperature extremes, and limited power sources pose significant hurdles that engineers must overcome. Efforts are underway to design chips resilient to radiation and capable of dissipating heat efficiently, all while minimizing power consumption and weight.

Despite these challenges, the potential benefits are immense. AI-enabled chips could revolutionize space exploration by enabling rapid algorithm deployment and real-time adaptation to changing mission requirements. As the space industry evolves, the integration of AI into satellite systems promises to unlock new frontiers and accelerate humanity’s quest for knowledge beyond Earth’s bounds.

In the words of Goldin, “We have launch vehicles, spacecraft, and antennas, but ultimately, it comes down to the damn semiconductor.” The development of AI chips for space heralds a new era of innovation, propelling humanity further into the cosmos.

By Impact Lab