NASA astronaut Anne McClain displays a spacesuit glove in 2019. The glove has several layers of material for extra thermal protection and comfort, plus heaters are embedded in each fingertip. Credit: NASA

LONG BEACH, Calif. – Microsoft is working with partners to identify commercial space applications for the latest software tools the tech giant has developed.

In one of the many applications being explored for Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s Spaceborne Computer 2, NASA is testing a Microsoft tool called Custom Vision to see whether it helps simplify the task of inspecting astronaut gloves to identify signs of damage after spacewalks.

Custom Vision, which is part of the Azure Cognitive Services suite, helps developers “create AI models without necessarily needing a PhD,” said Steve Kitay, senior director of Microsoft’s Azure Space, told SpaceNews. “It’s done with low or no code by clicking on certain applications or certain areas of a picture to identify and train the model.”

Kitay sees Earth observation as a promising application for Custom Vision. Whether the object being studied is one meter from the camera, like an astronaut’s glove, or thousands of kilometers away, like satellite imagery, Custom Vision can simplify the task of creating unique computer vision models, he added.

Video, for instance, can be parsed into different frames. With Custom Vision, developers can identify specific areas of interest in imagery by drawing bounding boxes.

Microsoft offers an open-source tool, called Distributed Application Runtime, or Dapr, that bring Custom Vision and other software components together to help developers create applications.

Microsoft is exploring space applications for Dapr with Ball Aerospace, Loft Orbital and Thales Alenia Space.

Thales is working with Microsoft to speed up processing of climate data captured by an International Space Station sensor.

With Loft Orbital, Microsoft is exploring “rapid development and deployment of space applications,” Kitay said.

Microsoft is supporting Ball’s work to build satellites that can be reconfigured quickly in orbit.

In recent years, Microsoft has begun working with dozens of space companies.

Azure Orbital, the company’s ground station-as-a-service business, is one element of the tech giant’s space program. Remote sensing is another.

“When we think about remote sensing, customers care about connectivity and insights,” Kitay said. “Microsoft is not trying to replicate that infrastructure that’s now being built out in space. It’s looking at harnessing it with partners and then connecting it to end customers to empower them for whatever particular mission that they’re doing. We’re working on being that cloud fabric for the space community.”

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...