Game company creates Mixed Reality space station to help train NASA astronauts

Written by: Tom Austin-Morgan | Published:

Epic Games has provided NASA with its Unreal Engine real-time visualisation platform to help the US space agency create an immersive Mixed Reality replica of the International Space Station (ISS) that provides an ‘out of this world’ environment for its astronauts and engineers.

Already recognised as being one of the best-in-class 3D computer game engines, Unreal Engine has increasingly been the tool of choice for those working in automotive, aeronautics and architecture, as well as many other areas where real-time visualisation and ultra high fidelity graphical representations are important. Many of these applications are designed to allow people to work in environments that are practically impossible to access for training and development, such as the depths of the North Sea, buildings that have not yet been built or new car models that are no more than design files on a computer.

NASA software engineer Matthew Noyes, said: “Creating a truly immersive experience for astronauts is a lot like creating a game. With Unreal Engine, we’ve created a completely immersive, three-dimensional, mixed reality training and development environment that is incredibly lifelike.

“In basic terms, that means we can put our crew in space while they’re still on earth,” he added.

NASA’s advanced implementation of VR combines Unreal Engine’s ability to create a realistic virtual world, with physical models and room scale tracking to create an immersive ISS experience. In addition to tools and elements of the space station, physical systems include an Active Response Gravity Offload System, which is a smart robotic crane that offloads the user’s body weight to make it feel like he or she is in micro, lunar, or Martian gravity. The resulting Mixed Reality system provides the tactile sensations of what it feels like to be in orbit, increasing that vital sense of presence.

Applications of the system include training astronauts in maintenance and to use exercise equipment, helping to design new habitats and engineering development.

Noyes concluded: “The environments created by Unreal Engine have allowed us to meet many of our training goals. The more realistic your training feels, the faster you can respond in critical real-world situations, which ultimately can save your life.”


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