From one to a hundred is not simple. The artificial intelligence constellation is still on the road.

  "Programmable ‘ Intelligent satellite ’ Appearing, satellites can change tasks and functions in orbit, which will change the original industrial chain, and many related industries will disappear because of the improvement of satellite functions. " At the 2019 American Satellite Conference held not long ago, Lockheed Martin, a traditional satellite manufacturer, made people really realize that a new era of satellites has come.

  Some media commented on the changes. "Words that can only be heard from new aerospace companies in the past, such as artificial intelligence and software definitions, have appeared in the speeches of traditional enterprises many times." Traditional forces are also happy to "embrace" new technologies, and artificial intelligence satellites and space-based AI are really coming.

  "Originally, the satellite was only responsible for remote sensing before it was positioned as a remote sensing satellite, the meteorological satellite was only responsible for meteorology, and the detection satellite was only responsible for detection. However, the intelligent satellite in the future can be owned according to the software ‘ Transforming thinking ’ The ability to do completely different things. " Recently, the China 2019 Software-Defined Satellite Summit Forum was held. Zhao Junsuo, a researcher at the Institute of Software, Chinese Academy of Sciences, explained that this is the aforementioned "changing tasks and functions". Loading the space-based supercomputing platform on the satellite can not only change the use of the satellite, but also do many unexpected things. At present, there are already experimental stars in operation in China.

  What’s so special about smart satellites?

  It is reported that intelligent satellites have the ability of "judging clouds and reading fog" and "unmanned driving".

  "Judging clouds and reading fog" is actually an interpretation of image quality. According to reports, traditional satellites have no interpretation ability, and all the pictures taken will be downloaded "intact" and screened and recombined by the ground monitoring and control center, which will waste a lot of channel resources. The satellite equipped with artificial intelligence system will "interpret" and "screen" the useful pictures for downloading, which not only carries out the initial screening but also saves a lot of channel resources.

  The term "unmanned driving" is controversial in the industry. Some insiders said that satellites are not means of transportation and should not be said to be "driving". Satellites only exist for operation, maintenance and operation. "If you want to express the concept of unmanned operation and maintenance or unmanned control, most of the current LEO satellites are unmanned (by autonomous control) when measuring and controlling the invisible arc, and they need to be measured and controlled in the visible arc."

  In fact, in the space-based field, satellites will be influenced by the gravity of the sun, the earth and so on, and their orbits will drift. Perturbations caused by various interferences need the measurement and control support of satellites.

  Although "unmanned control" is difficult to achieve, real intelligent satellites can "request" control. In November 2018, the "Tianzhi-1", which was launched into orbit by the Institute of Software of Chinese Academy of Sciences, was marked with an autonomous request management and control APP, which can use the positioning data of on-board real-time or historical global navigation satellite systems for autonomous orbit determination, and can adjust the orbit with high precision in the future. The satellite also has the ability to judge. Once the orbit deviation is found to exceed the set threshold, the satellite will send a control request to the ground independently. From January 7 to March 17, 2019, the Software Research Institute of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Xi ‘an Satellite TT&C Center, and China Academy of Sciences Microsatellite Innovation Institute jointly carried out an autonomous request control experiment, which was successful.

  Relevant experiments also prove that the interpretation data of intelligent satellites can be further calculated after preliminary screening, and information can be extracted from data, such as traffic monitoring, vegetation monitoring and emergency monitoring at civil aviation airports. For example, to compare the number of flights taking off and landing at an airport every day, satellites can calculate in space and give data directly, without having to pass down pictures and then calculate, and the data transmission volume is likely to be reduced by nearly 100 times.

  Variable tasks, space-based computing, request control, etc. are all the capabilities of smarter satellites. But this is not all. Zhao Junsuo said: "What we want to build is a platform with unlimited extension of intelligence. The development of artificial intelligence cannot be completed by one unit alone. For this reason, the software hopes to transplant the underlying algorithm to the satellite, so that software developers on the ground can participate in the formation of space-based intelligence. "

  Problems such as power consumption, computing power and satellite data security need to be solved.

  For a higher level of artificial intelligence, power consumption and computing power are two "roadblocks". The load of satellite is limited, and it is difficult to get a lot of running energy when running in space. Therefore, how to exert the maximum computing power with low power consumption is a problem that must be solved.

  "Tianzhi-1" is also equipped with a cloud computing platform, which realizes intelligent management and scheduling of computing resources by independently sensing the computing load, and completes most data processing work in orbit, saving a lot of unnecessary data transmission.

  At present, most models of artificial intelligence are on the ground, which can’t be carried out in space. It still needs to collect a lot of data and upload them after learning. It is difficult to correct and train them repeatedly.

  However, it is difficult to move the processing power of the supercomputer on the ground to the sky, mainly because it cannot overcome the problems of load and power consumption. "In the future, we hope to do algorithmic ‘ for chips with lower power consumption through software methods. Translation ’ So that the algorithms running on GPU can run directly on low-power processors and move artificial intelligence algorithms to satellites. In this way, more operations can be done on the satellite, and the gap between artificial intelligence on the satellite and the ground is getting smaller and smaller. " Zhao junsuo said.

  In addition, the safety of satellite system is also one of the topics to be solved. According to reports, at the American Satellite Conference, Lockheed Martin expressed its concern about the safety of intelligent satellites.

  Where there is code, there will be vulnerabilities that can be attacked. Making satellites acquire artificial intelligence is inseparable from systems, applications, algorithms and software, which are all realized through codes. Undoubtedly, using open source code is easy to be attacked if it is not thoroughly understood and understood.

  Therefore, to ensure satellite safety, it is necessary to realize the autonomous control of the underlying code.

  SPUTNIX system being built by Software Defined Satellite Alliance is a customized system, which ensures the safety and reliability of the satellite system while being open and open.

  Inter-satellite communication link is the key to build artificial intelligence constellation.

  Only after a single satellite realizes artificial intelligence can the artificial intelligence constellation be constructed. When the system changes from one to a group, the data transmission between satellites becomes a problem to be solved, and problems such as how to transmit data most quickly and how to allocate computing power optimally follow.

  In the vast space, how can the laser emitted by satellites far away from each other reach the receiving equipment of another satellite?

  "The average distance between two stars is thousands of kilometers, and it will move relatively fast." Regarding the communication between constellations, Du Li, deputy general manager of Xingyun Aerospace Company, said that the instant accuracy of establishing communication between two stars is only the first step, and it is stable to maintain uniform and continuous contact in the harsh space environment, and it also puts forward higher requirements for inter-satellite communication equipment.

  Dooley introduced that establishing inter-satellite communication links and maintaining link stability is the most critical technology. The two satellites are always moving at a relatively high speed, and aiming, capturing and tracking are needed to successfully build a chain and maintain stability.

  "Inter-satellite laser communication is the detection of extremely long-distance and extremely weak signals, and its technical difficulties come from the ultra-long distance, the dynamic change of links and the complex space environment." Dooley said that because of the ultra-long distance, laser communication technology can be used between satellites, which requires the development of laser modules with high power, low power consumption, narrow line width and good temperature stability, ultra-high sensitivity photodetectors and high-speed photoelectric conversion devices.

  In addition, in terms of the scale of the constellation system, Du Li reminded that, generally speaking, if a single satellite has a mass of less than 100 kilograms and a single function, its input cost is not high, and the investment, construction and operation of dozens or hundreds of constellations are still affordable, and long-term operation with a good business model can also be profitable; However, if the mass of a single satellite reaches tons or even several tons, its structure and function are often complicated, the manufacturing cost is high, and the construction, operation and management of its constellation system are also very complicated. The investment of the whole system is like astronomical figures, so it is generally difficult to solve it by commercial aerospace mode. Such commercial aerospace projects are usually difficult to make profits and succeed.

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  The intelligent satellite Tianzhi-1 can do these things.

  It is reported that the core of the "Tianzhi-1" satellite is a small and high-performance on-board cloud computing platform, which supports plug-and-play of payload and on-demand loading of application software. By injecting different application software, the satellite can complete different tasks. Compared with traditional satellites, "Tianzhi-1" has three characteristics: first, it is highly intelligent, and most of the data obtained by the satellite can be processed in orbit and transmitted to the ground as needed; Second, the satellite is an open system, users can develop software for the satellite, and the developed software can be injected into the satellite according to a certain process to carry out on-orbit tests; Third, the real-time status of the satellite. The general public can use the "idolize APP" to access and query through their mobile phones, interact with the satellite, and even command the satellite to perform space tasks such as "space selfie" in real time when Tianzhi-1 is idle.

  In addition, the "Tianzhi-1" satellite is the first in the "Tianzhi" series of new technology test satellites. In the next five to eight years, 17 stars from the planned "Tianzhi II" to "Tianzhi X" will be launched one after another.