The Frontier Development Lab


The Frontier Development Lab (FDL) applies AI technologies to space science, to push the frontiers of research and develop new tools to help solve some of the biggest challenges that humanity faces. These range from the affects of climate change to predicting space weather, from improving disaster response, to identifying meteorites that could hold the key to the history of our universe.

FDL is a public-private partnership with ESA in Europe and NASA in the USA. We work with commercial partners such as NVIDIA, Intel, and Google Cloud who provide expertise and the computing resources necessary for rapid experimentation and iteration in data intensive areas, as well as partners such as the Satellite Applications Catapult, SETI and the University of Oxford.

We have established an impressive success rate for research output over accelerated time periods over the time since we launched the Frontier Development Lab. Research papers are regularly accepted to respected journals, presented at scientific conferences (in both AI and space science domains) and have been featured in multiple media outlets.

How does it work?

FDL brings researchers from the cutting-edge of AI and data science, and teams them up with their counterparts from the space sector for an intensive eight-week research sprint, based on a range of challenge areas. The results far exceed what any individual could develop in the same time period, or even in years of individual research.

A key aspect of our success is the careful formation of small interdisciplinary teams focused on tackling specific challenges. Each team is composed of at least two space researchers and two data science or AI researchers, selected by our world-class network of mentors. During the research and development sprints, the teams are supported by mentors and experts from NASA, ESA and our other partners.

FDL has a global presence, in previous years the residential research sprint has been at the SETI Institute/NASA Ames, Mountain View, California, US and the University of Oxford, England, UK.

The support from our partners in the public and private sector allows us to offer PhD and post-doctoral researchers the opportunity to work on real-world problems in an interdisciplinary environment, supported by leading experts, and cutting-edge hardware.

What topics do you focus on?

Over the past three years, FDL’s research teams have worked on challenges under five key mission areas: Planetary Defence, Living with our Star, The Moon for Good, Mission Control for Earth, and Are we Alone?

For the 2019 research sprint we are developing challenge questions that build on previous missions, and also looking at new areas including Clouds and Climate Variability, Disaster Prevention, Progress and Response (Floods) and Ground station.

How do you select the challenges?

In order to ensure that we are tackling questions that have the potential to have a real-world impact, we have developed close links with scientists, researchers, industry and humanitarian organisations. We invite our partners and network to the “Big Think”, where they can share their thoughts on the latest developments in their fields, issues that need attention, as well as network with other members of the community. The Big Think meetings take place at the start of the year in the US and Europe, and provide the initial ideas for challenges, data-sets and resources.

Following the Big Think, we invite key partners and experts to help us distil these ideas into distinct challenge questions for the teams to work on during the research sprint.

How can I get involved with the Frontier Development Lab?

The main way to get involved with Frontier Development Lab is to apply to be a participant and take part in one of our research sprints, but there are plenty of other opportunities to stay in touch and support the programme.