As humanity’s activity in space increases, in-orbit servicing operations such as refuelling and repairs are becoming increasingly important but represent significant challenges. Service vehicles that can identify targets and take action without requiring human instructions from earth would change the equation entirely. Independence and autonomy will allow for much more flexibility in future mission planning of a service vehicle, as well as allowing it to conduct its operations without custom equipment.

Luxembourg expertise in intelligent visual processing

To make autonomy possible, the service vehicle needs to be able to see what it is doing, and process that data. UK-based LIFT ME OFF contacted the University of Luxembourg in order to find the expertise needed to develop technologies that will give service vehicles intelligent visual processing. Computer vision will allow the vehicle to recognise the parts of the satellite it is working on and to process the data it receives, to then make autonomous decisions and successfully repair or refuel the spacecraft.

LIFT ME OFF will collaborate with the Computer Vision, Imaging and Machine Intelligence research group of the SnT. “Our work is typically applied to security solutions on the ground, so bringing our research into space will give us many new research opportunities,” said Dr Djamila Aouada, principal investigator on the project who heads the reserach group. “This is a very new field and there is a lot of work to be done to grow the role of computer vision in the space sector.”

A first new space partnership

“The agreement with LMO marks a milestone for SnT; it is our first ‘new space’ partnership on a strategic issue for space business. The innovative computer vision technology developed by Dr Aouada and her team will now find applications in the space sector,” said Professor Björn Ottersten, director of SnT. “LIFT ME OFF has advanced technology and an innovative business plan – we are enthusiastic about embarking on this first research project with them.”

The fresh perspective from outside the space sector already delivers many insights.

And the first outcomes are already positive. “We are only at the start of our collaboration with Dr Aouada’s team and the fresh perspective from outside the space sector already delivers many insights,” said Michel Poucet, CEO of LIFT ME OFF. “SnT’s international team and its decade of terrestrial computer vision experience combined with LIFT ME OFF’s space experience makes SnT a perfect partner for helping us in our mission to make space safe and sustainable.”