NASA have been putting tech inspired by the research of Microsoft’ Azure Quantum into spacecraft communications.
The team behind it is looking for ways to optimise communication with missions via the Deep Space Network (DSN) – a finite resource which will benefit from scalable quantum computing.
What is the DSN?
It’s a network comprised of large radio antennas spread around the Earth and is used to maintain contact with spacecraft as distant as the Voyagers as well as the James Webb Space Telescope.
Anyone who has had to organise a large group that covers a large, disparate area will understand the problem this causes: the problem of scheduling. All the missions need to communicate, and this results in an influx of “several hundred weekly requests when each spacecraft is visible to the antenna”, according to Microsoft.
“Quantum computers can naturally represent random distributions as quantum states, and therefore have the potential to provide better solutions than today’s classical optimisation algorithms.”
As for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), it took a run time of two-hours to produce a schedule when the Microsoft team first started. Azure Quantum took that time down to just 16 minutes, and then a custom solution brought the time down even further, to around 2 minutes. This is resulting in more agile mission planning since JPL can now schedule for multiple candidates at a time.
For now, Azure Quantum remains in preview, and scalable quantum computing remains on the outskirts of being fully realised, but it’s awesome to see that the results of the research are being put into real-world use.