Leveraging AI for automating mission operations


ESA’s ESOC mission operations centre has for years been at the forefront of using artificial intelligence for mission operations applications. Greater coordination will bring the benefits of AI automation solutions to a wider audience and ensure they meet the needs of European Industry.

In 2019, ESOC’s Strategy and Transformation Office conceived a project to develop a roadmap for the future direction and coordination of AI activities in ESA’s Operations directorate.

The resulting Artificial Intelligence for Automation (A2I) Roadmap was developed through an initiative involving over 70 specialists at ESOC and supported by an industry consortium composed of McKinsey & Company subsidiaries Orphoz (consulting) and QuantumBlack (AI and data analytics), and Airbus Defence and Space

“The A2I roadmap identifies five priority domains and 14 use cases within mission operations to develop AI applications in a strategic and targeted way,” says Gabriele De Canio, Transformation Officer at ESOC and Technical Manager for the A2I Roadmap. “This will help us follow a coherent path to maximise the value of our AI activities.”

A2I Roadmap priority areas

Automating mission operations

The A2I Roadmap will oversee the investigation and development of AI-based solutions for automating a broad range of mission operations activities. Among others, these include mission planning, mission operations simulation, testing and validating new mission operations systems, monitoring spacecraft health, diagnosing problems, predictive maintenance of infrastructure and automated reaction recommendations for spacecraft operators.

“At its core, ‘AI for automation’ helps mission operations experts spend more of their time on interesting and valuable activities and less time carrying out mundane and repetitive work,” says Artur Palowski, Innovation Officer at ESOC. “Freeing up their time allows more resources to be allocated to tackling ever more ambitious space missions.”

The roadmap provides a centralised and coordinated effort to support and reinforce the artificial intelligence ambitions of ESA's Agenda 2025. It will also ensure that ESA remains a forerunner in the development and application of AI for spacecraft mission operations and a leading enabler of European industry.


Next steps

In addition to ongoing projects that have now been integrated into the roadmap, work is already underway on the design and development of new prototype applications to address the 14 use cases outlined by the Roadmap. The first prototype has already emphatically demonstrated the value of using AI for automation at ESA and the second has entered active development.

Click the ‘A2I Roadmap’ tag beside this article to follow the latest news on roadmap activities and results.



Orphoz is a subsidiary of the management consultancy McKinsey & Company. Their clients include public administrations and cross-sector industrial companies. 

QuantumBlack was born and proven in Formula 1, they combine advanced analytics, design and engineering expertise with McKinsey’s industry knowledge and organisational change management experience.

Airbus Defence and Space develops cutting-edge and reliable space technologies, from spacecraft and ground infrastructure to space-related business solutions.