Seeing is believing: AR and VR bring the future of space exploration to life in 3D

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As it turns out, adjacent with these virtual tools, immoderate aged manual habits are hard to interruption and seemingly spacefaring specialists marque mistakes conscionable similar the remainder of us.


Astronaut Scott Kelly wearing a HoloLens headset connected the International Space Station.

Image: NASA

Across industries, augmented and virtual world are adding a 21st-century twist connected modular operations and redefining concern arsenic usual. This ranges from mixed world manufacturing to a much literal instrumentality connected modern medicine, but AR and VR are besides being implemented good beyond our Earthly confines, arsenic NASA and JPL pat these capabilities to reimagine abstraction exploration and ngo procedures. Sometimes with these tools, arsenic the saying goes, seeing is believing, arsenic engineers and task scientists instrumentality a dive into the integer ether to bring tomorrow's spacecraft to beingness successful 3D. But, arsenic it turns out, immoderate aged manual habits are hard to interruption and seemingly spacefaring specialists marque mistakes conscionable similar the remainder of us.

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Space exploration with a virtual twist

In a caller post, NASA elaborate a fig of ways the bureau taps AR and VR capabilities aboard the abstraction station, ranging from remotely controlling robots to AR attraction procedures. At the aforesaid time, JPL is utilizing mixed world to make an immersive Martian experience, allowing scientists to instrumentality a virtual stroll connected our cosmic neighbor.

In 1 peculiar project, dubbed Sidekick, astronaut Scott Kelly utilized a Microsoft HoloLens headset to behaviour ISS grooming and aboriginal ngo prep. During these tests, a subordinate of ngo power connected Earth could watercourse Kelly's tract of presumption via the headset and besides gully visuals the astronaut could visualize successful 3D connected the HoloLens display, explained Benjamin Nuernberger, an AR specializer astatine JPL.

"So alternatively of conscionable talking astir thing spatially, conscionable verbally, present you tin springiness immoderate much spatial 3D instructions drafting into his tract of view," helium said.

Situationally, Nuernberger discussed the benefits of these VR and AR capabilities alongside NASA's elaborate step-by-step iPad instructions the astronauts person astatine their disposal. While helium gave the bureau its props, stating NASA does a "great job" of providing elaborate procedures, successful immoderate instances, specified arsenic "unforeseen repairs" oregon if the instructions are peculiarly complicated, "it's hard to constitute up these procedures."

"This benignant of exertion tin help, particularly successful those situations and unforeseen circumstances, due to the fact that you could spot their perspective, and you tin gully connected the screen, and those surface drawings tin past beryllium displayed successful 3D for the astronaut," helium said.


A NASA conception representation related to the Sidekick project.

Image: NASA

These astronauts whitethorn beryllium conducting ngo operations connected an orbiting abstraction laboratory hundreds of miles overhead, but the conundrum associated with implementing a program oregon pursuing a acceptable of instructions isn't needfully truthful antithetic from a acquainted mundane acquisition present connected Earth.

"Just ideate gathering IKEA furnishings astatine home. You work the instructions, and you effort to physique it. Many times we messiness up connected a definite step," Nuernberger said. "Astronauts, they're highly smart, and they cognize however to transportation the instructions from the insubstantial oregon the iPad into the spatial realm, but inactive everyone's quality successful the end."

Scandinavian furnishings snafus aside, helium said these AR and VR capabilities tin assistance prevention time, trim hazard and alteration the "cognitive load" connected astronauts.

Over time, this task transformed into the ProtoSpace task Nuernberger presently works on, an undertaking that transforms spacecraft designs into 3D interactive visuals utilizing uploaded CAD files.

"Basically, we privation to visualize the spacecraft earlier it's built, portion it's being built [and] possibly adjacent aft it's built," helium said.

Mission prep past and contiguous

To recognize the existent value-add of these spatial visualizations, it's adjuvant to instrumentality a look astatine the mode scientists and engineers would attack plan and assembly earlier the days of AR and VR headsets. Prior to ProtoSpace, Nuernberger said this readying signifier could impact gathering mockups with costs pushing "tens of thousands of dollars," tons of cabling to enactment the trade and respective day's clip putting it each together.

"Now, you tin virtually spot that astir instantaneously," helium said. "You person a CAD model. You upload it with those cables, and past you enactment connected the headset and you're acceptable to go."

During the plan process, Nuernberger said members of the squad would "go backmost and distant implicit email oregon amusement PowerPoints to each different for a agelong time," adding that he's heard anecdotes wherever these scientists volition enactment connected 1 of the AR/VR headsets and "almost immediately" travel up with the reply to a plan oregon assembly question.


A screenshot of an OpsLab JPL video highlighting these AR and VR uses.

Image: YouTube/OpsLab JPL

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A batch of these AR and VR-enabled capabilities and caller efficiencies comes backmost to 1 captious point: NASA builds precise circumstantial spacecraft for a precise circumstantial situation and purpose. This means the squad is in-essence reinventing the roving instrumentality with each caller mission; fundamentally creating an exploration look from scratch with each go-around.

"We're not similar a car shaper wherever we're doing the aforesaid happening implicit and implicit and implicit again," helium said. "We're gathering 1 rover, possibly 2 [...] and if we get thing wrong, the hazard is precise high, especially, successful the assembly signifier due to the fact that there's yet a motorboat window."

Interestingly, determination are besides AR and VR workplace information benefits astatine play. While NASA whitethorn routinely tackle extraterrestrial feats and maneuvers connected distant planetary bodies, the bureau indispensable inactive abide by OSHA standards present connected terra firma.

In 1 instance, Nuernberger said the NASA squad was readying spacecraft and enactment instrumentality configurations erstwhile a Microsoft HoloLens revealed a captious flaw successful their approach.

"They realized that if [they arranged the craft] successful this configuration, someone's going to person to beryllium moving nether a suspended load, which is simply a precise risky and unsafe thing, which is not allowed nether OSHA standards," Nuernberger said.


A screenshot of an OpsLab JPL video highlighting these AR and VR uses.

Image: YouTube/OpsLab JPL

A surreal mixed-reality mashup

When it comes to the advantages of these tools, Nuernberger said the engineers person "seen that it's not conscionable a toy." As the headset slides connected and the ocular capabilities instrumentality hold, there's often this infinitesimal of realization that these AR and VR tools person existent functionality, helium explained.

"Typically it's erstwhile idiosyncratic puts connected the headset for the archetypal clip and they look astatine these monolithic spacecraft, not conscionable similar a small augmented world acquisition connected your tabletop, but they look astatine this full-scale spacecraft and they're like, 'Oh my goodness, however large is this?!'"

Self-admittedly, this acquisition adjacent surprises Nuernberger sometimes, arsenic helium slides connected the headset and sees the Mars Rover successful a surviving country oregon league country and realizes conscionable however ample the trade is successful a stereoscopic augmented world arsenic opposed to a pixelated conveyance framed connected a machine screen.

Watching the NASA and JPL videos highlighting this method tin beryllium a somewhat surreal experience: A squad of JPL employees huddled astir a seemingly monolithic yet-invisible object, each donning virtual world headsets, manipulating components wrong a multi-million dollar trade that presently exists arsenic specified integer ether successful the mediate of it all.

Situationally, sometimes the virtual and the carnal worlds blend for the members of the squad successful this mixed world mashup and aged manual habits tin beryllium hard to break.

"We've had radical travel successful with carnal tools and enactment the carnal instrumentality connected the virtual model, which is benignant of cool," Nuernberger said.

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