Following the success of FDL in the US, FDL Europe was launched in 2018. Working with the European Space Agency, the University of Oxford, NVIDIA and the Satellite Applications Catapult, FDL Europe began tackling the notion of creating “Mission Control” for planet Earth. We’re looking to build on this progress in 2019, and we are currently defining challenges related to the themes of Mission Control: Earth, Climate Toolbox, Mission Support and Connecting the Planet.

FDL 2019 is your chance to be part of something ground-breaking this year.

2019 Challenge areas

The FDL yearly cycle starts with challenge definition. Early in the year, we bring together some of the brightest and best minds we can find, from space science, AI and technology, and on/off-Earth applications to explore our challenge areas. During the course of our day-long Big Think events in Europe and the US, we aim to identify some broad challenges, which the FDL research teams could tackle in the summer.

Through a process of iteration with a PI (principal investigator) leading each challenge, we refine and narrow those challenge areas until we have identified one, or several, tightly articulated questions to resolve.

FDL challenges must represent a clear and present scientific problem, for which there is available data, that could be significantly advanced by AI tools and techniques. It is these challenges that the research teams further narrow in the opening weeks of the FDL research sprint to refine their own particular concept approach. The broad challenge areas we start the year with move from provisional to confirmed as we understand how, and when, they meet these criteria. Our provisional challenge areas for 2019 are:


Mission Control for Earth: Real-Time Data/Virtual Instruments
How might we utilise AI and Earth observation data to support improved decision making to protect the planet?

FDL aims to create useful tools that can help solve big challenges on Earth, and we like to envision a “Mission Control Centre” for Earth, that would give real-time insights on the health of the planet and allow us to prepare for the impact of events such as storms, earthquakes, forest fires etc more efficiently.

If we could derive insight into our environment in real-time and predict future scenarios we would be empowered to take action and provide early-warnings that could save lives. The data is already becoming available, but to realise this vision, we still need to find how to extract value from it quickly. The ability to pull out insights in real-time is still limited, but AI promises to be a powerful tool for sense-making, data fusion and making reliable predictions.

Need being addressed: Extracting useful insights from data in real-time, to enable early and improved interventions, for example identifying the first signs of wildfires before they have chance to spread, or developing predictions that could enable illegal poaching to be interrupted.

Technical angle: New era of satellite constellations are providing high frequency coverage opening up a new era of applications that require rapid insight. Applying AI techniques to enable value to be extracted from data-sets in real-time.


Climate Toolbox: Improved prediction for mitigation, adaptation and resilience.
How might AI improve climate models and enable better decision making for resilience planning?

In 2019, FDL Europe will be putting climate change front and centre and exploring how AI can help us with mitigation of - and adaptation to - its effects. We will explore opportunities to combine AI and Earth observation data to create new prediction, planning and adaptation tools to safeguard the planet. Potential practical applications include auditing the Earth’s CO2- sequestration capacity using SAR, increasing understanding of the changing role of clouds in global albedo, and improving predictive models of ice-flows, as well as increasing humanitarian and adaptive insight and identifying new methods and approaches for regenerative sequestration.

AI techniques can help to integrate inference models into high-performance computing simulations, as well as looking at decision workflows to inform large-scale adaptation and mitigation strategies

Need being addressed: Greater understanding of the effects of climate change is required in order for us to better plan how to deal with them. Modelling for both predictive and ameliorative planning is hugely complex, due to the number of environmental interactions and variables.

Technical angle: Neural nets, in combination with classical physical modelling methods suggest a promising new era of predictive science using super computers.


Mission Support: New era of exploration enabled by autonomy and miniaturisation
How might AI be used to further optimise spacecraft operations?

The recent failure of Digital Globe’s WorldView satellite is a reminder that space is hard. AI promises to be a powerful tool in supporting the next generation of spacecraft operations with improved anomaly detection, autonomous operations and data-handling and processing.

This challenge area looks at how AI could be used to better predict resource usage, optimise spacecraft in constellations, and increase efficiency of operations in order that you can achieve more with the limited resources available.

Need being addressed: Space missions are costly, and AI could help to ensure spacecraft are optimised to get the most out of the limited resources that are available to them in space, increasing the return on investment.

Technical angle: AI promises a range of new capabilities that could be put onboard future spacecraft to enable more efficient operation allowing you to do more with less.


Connecting the Planet: Optimising satcomms to extend access for all
Can AI optimise satellite communications to provide access for all?

It’s easy to forget that over half the world’s population has little or no access to the internet. Satellite communications have for many years been able to provide a technical solution, however this is usually focused on commercial interests. With new technologies and advances in AI offering the potential for optimised coverage, is there a way satellites could provide consistent, functional and economical provision for all? There are a number of inter-linked, system-level challenges to tackle including enabling operations of low-cost mega-constellation satellites, and optimising satellite capacity allocation (lowering costs). We could also look at unlocking the potential of on-board signal processing and high-throughput satellites, as well as monitoring and predicting meteorological influences and anomaly detection, to improve performance and viability.

Need being addressed: Improving access to the internet by exploring ways of using existing technology more efficiently.

Technical Angle: Optimising satellite communication technologies using on-board processing payloads and/or mega-constellations to offer new operational solutions that fully exploit the capability of today’s technology.

You can read about the US based NASA FDL 2019 challenges by following this link.