international space station iss

Augmented reality tool developed for astronauts to carry out repairs

Image credit: DT

An augmented reality tool is being developed for the European Space Agency (ESA) to allow astronauts to carry out repair work in the hostile conditions of space.

The tool can be used to perform maintenance tasks and real-time equipment monitoring and the first practical tests carried out at ESA’s European Astronaut Centre have produced promising results.

The project, known as EdcAR, has been in development for two years at the Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT) as an attempt to find an easier way to carry out work in space

Since maintenance and other work tasks in space are critical, they must be carried out without errors and at the right time. Preparing for these requires in-depth practising, which involves coordinating the activities of various experts. Astronauts’ time is extremely valuable, their tasks and maintenance instructions must be unambiguous.

The EdcAR system is expected to reduce mistakes, speed up the tasks and improve the clarity of the instruction by the use of AR technology.

One of its major benefits is determining the real-time location of an area requiring maintenance.

The information is transmitted to the astronaut’s AR glasses using text, graphics, video and sound to guide them.

The system displays detailed visual instructions on the astronauts’ AR glasses, guiding them step by step to perform the necessary procedures in the right order, such as “now press this button”, “then turn the lever (B)”.

The new system also makes the invisible visible by enabling the visualisation of telemetry data from equipment and other systems on board the space station, such as fault diagnostics, the latest maintenance data, life cycle, radiation, pressure or temperature – both in space and on the ground. All of this information can be displayed on the AR glasses.

“The AR system that we developed runs on the Microsoft HoloLens platform. It supports the astronauts’ work in a completely new way by displaying key telemetry data through an IoT (Internet-of-Things) interface,” explained project manager Kaj Helin of VTT.

“This is very impressive! We are exploring possibilities for an EdcAR follow on,” said David Martinez Oliveira, technical officer at ESA.

The first practical tests of the new AR systems have been performed in the ISS-Columbus training mock-up located in ESA’s on-ground European Astronaut Centre (EAC) in Cologne, Germany. The test team included an experienced astronaut.

The AR system could also be adapted for use in a number of sectors such as the aviation industry, machine building, ships, mining machines and power plants.

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