Apr 9, 2019

AI saves the day in space

A Solar Dynamics Observatory photo of the sun. Photo: NASA/SDO

NASA could soon use an artificial intelligence-fueled fix for a malfunctioning instrument on its Solar Dynamics Observatory, which observes solar activity in extraordinary detail.

Why it matters: Powerful solar storms — bursts of solar plasma and charged particles — can harm satellites in orbit and even cause major problems for power grids on Earth. And the SDO, which can spot solar storms in real-time, is a key part of that.

What they did: The SDO instrument in question is known as MEGS-A, and it was designed to keep an eye on ultraviolet radiation levels, which correlate with a ballooning of the Earth's outer atmosphere that can harm satellites in near-Earth orbit.

A deep-learning network that researchers at NASA Frontier Development Lab created with help from IBM, SETI, and Nimbix in 2018 may soon replace the failed instrument by inferring what ultraviolet radiation levels that instrument would detect based on what the other instruments on SDO are observing at any given time, NASA AI consultant Graham Mackintosh tells Axios.

"Imagine you've got an orchestra playing, and at some point, for some reason, partway through, one of the musicians playing the violin just stopped and walked off. Could you know enough about the way that music was playing to fill in the gap and re-create what you think that musician would have played if that musician was still sitting in the chair? That's sort of what we did."
— Graham Mackintosh, NASA AI consultant

While NASA isn't yet using the fix operationally, the results are promising, Mackintosh added.

What to watch: AI models like this could also be used for other future missions, Mackintosh said. Instead of loading 3 instruments on a satellite to measure different aspects of the space environment, you could potentially launch two and use the data collected to infer the information that would have been measured by a third.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to specify all the groups that participated in the AI research related to the SDO satellite.

Go deeper

DOJ watchdog finds flaws in FBI surveillance process beyond Page application

Carter Page. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Justice Department inspector general found errors in 29 out of 29 randomized FBI applications for acquiring wiretap warrants through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, according to a report released Tuesday.

Why it matters: The broad DOJ audit of the FISA program stems from a damning investigation into the FBI's surveillance of former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, which uncovered "serious performance failures" by some FBI officials during the Russia probe. The IG's final findings come as Congress debates whether to renew the authority it grants to the FISA courts.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3:30 p.m. ET: 838,061 — Total deaths: 41,261 — Total recoveries: 174,115.
  2. U.S.: Leads the world in confirmed cases. Total confirmed cases as of 3:30 p.m. ET: 177,452 — Total deaths: 3,440 — Total recoveries: 6,038.
  3. Public health updates: More than 400 long-term care facilities across the U.S. report patients with coronavirus — Older adults and people with other health conditions are more at risk, new data shows.
  4. Federal government latest: The White House and other institutions are observing several models to better understand and prepare cities for when the coronavirus is expected to peak in the U.S.
  5. In Congress: New York Rep. Max Rose deploys to National Guard to help coronavirus response.
  6. 🎧 Podcast: Misinformation in the coronavirus age.
  7. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

U.S. coronavirus updates: White House studies models projecting virus peak

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The White House and other institutions are observing several models to better understand and prepare cities for when the coronavirus is expected to peak in the U.S.

The state of play: The coronavirus is expected to peak in the U.S. in two weeks, but many states like Virginia and Maryland will see their individual peaks well after that, according to a model by the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 3 hours ago - Health