proof of concept
At the heart of this concept is a set of simulators, both motion and static, designed to provide the necessary physical stimuli and setting the stage for a memorable and meaningful experience. Simulated experiences are playing an ever-increasing role in education as we better understand the connection between emotions and physical sensations and their effects on how the brain develops, learns, and forms meaningful relationships with the world around it. This section looks at the hardware concept and requirements that will allow us to design an innovative, immersive experience to help achieve the program's deeper goals.
Creating Layers Of Immersion
It’s important from the moment the teams enter the VPACC system that they are immediately immersed in the experience. One way we will do this is through the use of flight suits. The flight suits have a great deal of psychological value for younger children, as well as functional attributes, all adding to and deepening the experience, see this page. The simulators and internal cockpit environment, the next layer, will require a good level of fidelity to look, feel and sound real from the perspective of the crew.
The motion platform is one part of a three-component system, comprised of the motion platform, the cabin and cockpit, and the static simulator.
This is an act of collaboration between engineering, entertainment, art and technology. The hardware and corresponding software would be the technical crux of the commercial program. The experience they would provide is the business model’s product and therefore a critical part of the overall concept. The motion platform would be used to simulate atmospheric flight and orbit maneuvering such as acceleration and deceleration.
This document does not attempt to design or deliver an engineered solution for the motion platform. Instead, it is meant to outline an idea using conceptual examples. Images used in this document are meant to illustrate possible ideas, and have no bearing on final designs. For a proof of concept or demonstration model we might use a conventional flight simulator; one option is a 6 DOF (six degrees of freedom) Stewart Motion Platform. Our commercial product would require a more specialized approach. The commercial product, as an entertainment system not a training tool, would require less realistic flight modeling but ideally would include motion axis like surge and acceleration, and require extended motion range in pitch and roll.
Cabin and cockpit
The next component to consider is the cabin and cockpit. The internal environment requires a good level of fidelity to create a fully immersive, tactile experience, built to feel as close to reality as possible. Our concept utilizes a cockpit and cabin that holds four crew members, rather than the standard two pilot seats, plus an instructor. The tactile and visually stimulating environment greatly enhances immersion and motion cueing. The key to the success of this concept is the ability to link motion and static platforms, to create realistic mission architecture enhanced by software flexibility. In light of our objectives, visual parameters play a significant role. Ideally we would want an extensive field of view from the cockpit of 180 degrees to 270 degrees if possible.
The cockpit environment is the program’s centerpiece as it will be where the teams will spend the majority of their time. This environment needs to be built with the specific tasks outlined earlier in mind and in collaboration with game designers. The cockpit would be completely functional maximizing the amount of interactivity and immersion. Remote assistance would be on hand in the form of mission control personnel, which would also act as a tutor in order to help guide teams needing help and to assure safe operations as all times.
UNDERSTANDING THE NEED FOR MISSION ARCHITECTURE
The objective of using a systematic entertainment route to engage and inspire the public, in a virtual public aerospace career, requires integrating a number of ideas and concepts. Chief among them is the need for a wide range of options within our sandbox universe that allow the teams to develop that career path, the missions and tasks they will fly. We achieve mission architecture by linking or docking platforms in sequence, allowing the motion platform to play the role of a multi-purpose flight deck spanning all the scenarios being played out, including the descent and ascent vehicle for planet surfaces depending on the final design.
The static platform shown above (early concept) transforms an ISO container into a simple, modular and mobile structure for the hardware components.
In order to create longer duration missions it's important to be able to transfer crew from one platform to another seamlessly. A static platform can be used to simulate the aft part of the orbiter vehicle. During the simulation, as the mission reaches orbit, the motion simulator comes to rest, and motion cueing would be achieved through visual affects only. The crew will then be able to leave their seats and have access to the mission module (static platform). This will allow for longer missions and would include basic facilities like ablutions.
Expanding the mission scenarios for longer duration missions could allow the crew access to the larger components or other static simulators, making it possible to connect multiple platforms. This will provide more room and could potentially accommodate sleeping quarters, a simulated laboratory, etc. From the perspective of the crew, these static platforms could simulate either an orbiting space station or an interplanetary spacecraft. The linked platforms/simulators would bring a broader mission spectrum and the possibility of a mission duration spanning days. It also would expand the range of STEAM-based subjects children can engaged with.
THE SIMULATED WORLD OF AEROSPACE
We need to understand how the technology works with the simulation and software. From the crew’s perspective, the motion simulator would represent a near-future horizontal take-off vehicle. Note that the project uses a realistic near-future scenario concept rather than a ‘Star Trek’ type or fanciful concept. This will assure that the science and subject matter are as relevant as possible. Horizontal take-off and landing concepts are used to create depth within the experience, and expand the mission’s scope and flexibility.
“For once you have tasted flight you will walk the Earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return”
–Leonardo Da Vinci
The use of horizontal take-off allows for more challenging missions, as well as an increased flexibility in the simulation. It also ensures more interactive, hands-on activity and more physical engagement. Overall, this approach provides a full-spectrum aerospace experience that allows participants to develop piloting skills, an understanding of atmospheric flight, and the necessary navigation and aerodynamics skills, allowing them to master achieve mastery before venturing on to more complex challenges.
Working from that perspective, let’s now take a look at what this entails. First, we need to imagine all the action being centered on the cockpit – the motion platform. We therefore need to invent the ‘Swiss Army knife of spacecraft. The static platform is our ‘Mission Module’ and then we have the lifting body along with the cargo bay.
Beyond low earth orbit we can simulate lifting a separate engine component in the cargo bay. Once we deployed this engine, the MPEV and mission module can separate and dock with the engine in order to travel beyond low earth orbit.
This gives us a wider range of options once in orbit, including the ability to construct, deploy and retrieve objects. The images used here are from a free online program called ‘Obiter’ and could be used as part of a demonstration model. The simulation has a very real physics engine and gives us a number of demonstration options. The software flexibility, as used in computer games, gives us considerable freedom and allows for a sandbox universe.
It may be possible down the line to expand the concept to include an ambitious Martian environment. This could consist of a large area representing the Martian surface utilizing a HAB or habitat at its center. The HAB would be built to house the crew in a similar fashion to the static platform, with accommodation and facilities to live and explore from within the simulated Martian environment. This would provide incredible depth to the overall simulation, expanding the scope of science-based subjects to geology, exobiology, chemistry and resource management to mention just a few. It also provides the chance for exciting simulation such as aero-braking or aero-capture, Mars decent and ascent.
Australia’s Victoria Space Science Education Center [VSSEC] is an organization that has implemented such a program in 2010. One of their educational programs named ‘Mission to Mars’ simulates the Martian surface and allows students to explore and collect geological samples that they later test and examine in laboratory conditions. The program is proving to be extremely popular with students and teachers engaged with VSSEC, with 1,890 student participants.