Nano-satellites are a very popular trend in satellite design right now: many small low-powered satellites are built using commodity components rather than the traditional approaches that incorporate high-specced parts in the construction of larger satellites. This greatly reduces their cost and has enabled a new generation of applications, particularly through the deployment of “constellations”: groups of satellites operating in tandem to monitor phenomena such as climate change and protect against impending natural disasters.
David and Earl will be working with industrial experts at space companies Craft Prospect and Bright Ascension, alongside the University of Manchester. Their focus will be on the application of Deep Learning and Code Optimisation methods to the satellite software, taking advantage of emerging hardware platforms that offer enhanced capabilities on-board.
“In the same way that commodity hardware components revolutionised satellite construction, we believe there is potential for a revolution in the software domain,” said David, who will take responsibility for algorithm development on the project.
By applying the power and commoditised tools of machine learning that have emerged over the last decade, the researchers intend to make the satellites more autonomous, reducing the demands on the data connection to the ground station. The work will involve a combination of cutting-edge Machine Learning methods alongside the improvement of industry-standard software through methods such as Genetic Improvement.
“We’re excited to see how far we can take this,” says White, “The timing is perfect for a new wave of satellite applications enabled by AI.”
Dr Petke aims to change the face of software engineering by transferring the task of software specialisation from human to machine. The genetic improvement techniques that will be developed will provide an automated way to speed up computationally intensive calculations within software, saving time and money.
Genetic improvement is a novel field of research that has only arisen as a standalone area in the last few years. Several factors have contributed to the development and success of this field recently including the sheer amount of code now available online and the focus on automated improvement of non-functional properties of software, such as memory consumption.
“This fellowship is a dream come true. It will allow me to start my own small research group and pursue the development of automated software improvement techniques. We have already had a few success stories in our group, yet the area of genetic improvement is still in it’s early stages, leaving lots of research opportunities to explore.”
Dr Justyna Petke
Dr. Petke is a world-leading expert on genetic improvement, publishing award-winning work on automated software specialisation and transplantation. She won two `Humies’ awarded for human-competitive results produced by genetic and evolutionary computation and a distinguished paper award at the International Symposium on Software Testing and Analysis. This work was also widely covered in media, including Wired magazine and BBC Click.
Dr. Petke will collaborate with a UK-based company, called Satalia, which provides the latest optimisation techniques to the industry.