AI Case Study

NASA and Autodesk reduce the weight of designs for space craft lander by 35% using machine learning for generative design

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory worked with Autodesk to generate a new deep space landing craft that would be lighter in weight than existing models. Autodesk utilised machine learning in the design generation



Aerospace And Defence

Project Overview

"The lander collaboration with Autodesk was mostly experimental, with JPL [NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory] giving the company a very clear goal: figure out a way to reduce the weight of a deep-space lander. To make the lander, Autodesk used its own artificial intelligence software, which can develop hundreds of different designs in short periods of time. Known as generative design, it’s a technique that allows engineers to come up with computer-generated concepts for a project by inputting a set of constraints that the software must adhere to. For the lander, Autodesk and JPL input the types of temperatures and forces a lander might experience when traveling through deep space. They also input variables like the kinds of materials that the software should experiment with, such as titanium and aluminum. And they asked the software to explore different types of manufacturing methods, including casting and 3D printing.

From design to finish, Davis says the entire process took about a year and a half, and that the team was able to rapidly iterate on the design during the first month with the Autodesk software. While this particular lander isn’t going to space, Davis hopes to continue working with JPL to find ways to incorporate generative design into the planning for their missions. “Bringing in a new thing like generative design, it’s a disruption and they have to be careful about how they introduce it and give engineers the confidence it’s a valid way to proceed,” says Davis. “It’s quite a culture change exercise.”"

Reported Results

"Overall, Autodesk says it was able to decrease the lander’s weight by 35 percent compared to the baseline design for other JPL landers. Autodesk says the lander weighs around 176 pounds, which is relatively light compared to NASA’s latest Mars lander InSight, which is around 770 pounds. And Autodesk claims the internal structure can support a payload of scientific instruments that weighs up to 250 pounds."



R And D

Product Development


"When it comes to space travel, the best materials to withstand the harshness of space are things like titanium and aluminum, but these metals can be heavy. And the more a vehicle weighs, the more difficult and more expensive it is to launch into space. So shaving pounds can help reduce the overall cost and complexity of a mission. Weight reduction also allows for the opportunity to add more instruments and sensors to a lander, to gather more valuable science data."