NASA is developing an augmented reality (AR) application for astronauts to allow them to inspect and maintain International Space Station (ISS) equipment without the need for ground control assistance. This, the agency hopes, will reduce the impact of communication delays between the ISS crew and NASA mission control in Houston, Texas, United States. Although the communication delay is generally imperceptible, NASA says this project will increase the autonomy of astronauts in making quick and informed decisions. This project will mainly benefit the space agency for the exploration of the Moon and possibly Mars.
Usually, astronauts receive ground control instructions on a PDF file that can be viewed on a computer or tablet. But holding these gadgets in hand while working on machines in tight space limits productivity. In a blog post, NASA said the T2 Augmented Reality Project (T2AR) makes it possible to display instructions in astronauts’ glasses and direct their gaze with 3D landmarks, showing them actual work sites. He can also follow verbal instructions to navigate the procedures. This facilitates the inspection and maintenance process.
AR technology uses Microsoft’s HoloLens with custom AR software. In April, astronaut Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) was tasked with maintaining exercise equipment, using the new technology. Two other ISS astronauts used it later, and more tests are planned.
“AR tools promise to allow us to prepackage advice and expertise,” said Bryan Dansberry, ISS associate scientist at the Johnson Space Center. He said the space station was the “perfect platform” for testing AR systems and refining these tools.
There has been a renewed interest in exploring the Moon as a stepping stone to reach space further from Earth. Through the Artemis program, NASA intends to use new technologies for lunar exploration and prepare human missions to Mars. To get the most out of these missions, NASA has developed new technologies and one of them is augmented reality as communication delays beyond the Moon will certainly last longer. Artemis aims to land on the Moon’s South Pole, where no humans have been before, by 2024.