Microsoft had recently unveiled its partnership with the US space agency NASA to help coordinate with its spacecraft in a blog post.
“As NASA launches more frequent and complex missions into space, managing communications with the growing number of spacecraft is becoming increasingly challenging. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has turned to Azure Quantum to explore ways to communicate more efficiently with spacecraft exploring our solar system and beyond.”
JPL communicates with space missions through the Deep Space Network (DSN), a global network of large radio antennae located in California, Spain, and Australia that allows constant communication with spacecraft as the earth rotates.
The Azure Quantum team had developed a solution for a version of JPL’s scheduling problem with a limited feature set with the eventual goal to incorporate a broader set of requirements. This is intended to reduce the need for lengthy negotiations and speed up the overall process.
At the beginning, the Microsoft team has recorded runtimes of two hours or more to produce a schedule. By applying quantum-inspired optimisation algorithms, the Microsoft team used Azure Quantum to reduce the time needed to 16 minutes, and a custom solution reduced it to about two minutes. Schedules that are produced in minutes rather than hours not only allow JPL to create many candidate schedules but also allow the organisation to be more agile as missions and demands increase.