Millions of pieces of space junk orbiting the earth present a significant threat to current and planned satellite operations essential for communications, weather forecasting and other applications. The removal of such debris is key to sustainability in space and to reducing the risk of obsolete spacecraft colliding with new and existing satellites. A solution based on quantum-inspired computing and artificial intelligence is being advanced by Fujitsu UK and partners to address the efficient removal of space debris.

The Digital Annealer system is being engineered in collaboration with Astroscale, the University of Glasgow and Amazon Web Services to improve mission planning so that a single spacecraft can efficiently select which pieces of space debris to remove in one mission, and at a faster rate than is currently possible. Using a digital circuit design inspired by quantum phenomena, the Digital Annealer focuses on rapidly solving complex combinatorial optimization problems -- up to 10,000 times faster than conventional computing -- without the added complications and costs typically associated with quantum computing methods.

The technology is expected to help define which debris is collected and when, and to determine the minimum fuel and minimum time required to bring inoperable spacecrafts or satellites safely back to the disposal orbit. Finding the optimal route to collect the space debris will save significant time and cost during the mission planning phase and confirm the commercial viability of this computational approach to celestial cleanup.

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