1 V-ERAS Concept and objectives
The international space community is contemplating long-duration crewed missions to Mars in the near
future. In this regard, human space mission simulators play an important role in developing and testing
hardware and software technologies required for such missions. Simulators provide an ideal platform for
conducting research in psychology, physiology, medicine, mission operations, human factors and
habitability. Combined, these research areas are crucial for ensuring crew well-being and performance
for long duration space missions. In this scenario, the recent development of computer science
techniques, such as virtual and augmented reality, has provided an effective and versatile way to
implement such simulators.
In particular, Virtual Reality (VR) allows simulating environments that are not possible or very difficult to
reproduce on Earth, as definitely the case for planetary exploration. The simulations that can be realized
in VR environment allows also to avoid all the possible unsafe situations for the user.
In VR, a model of any future mission in an extreme simulated environment can be created. The
advantages of this model will be mainly twofold:
- support for engineering activities
- crew training
Engineering activity will benefit from such models because :
- early detection of weakness and critical points
- the organization of entire system is optimized
- early assessment on whether the main requirements/constraints are met
Within VR models, the astronaut crew will be able to train alone and interact with their future
environment even before the actual hardware is built, creating huge cost savings and more effective
missions. VR versatility will also facilitate the exploration of new concepts to reduce learning time and
increase knowledge retention.
Scientific missions could be planned more carefully because the simulation of several scenarios requires
a limited amount of time, can be easily customized by suitable set of parameters, and provides valuable
feed–backs from engineers and crewmembers. Collecting and analyzing data and information from
there, with continuous iterative enhancements, could help to diminish the failure risks and increase the
chance of mission targets achievement.
The V-ERAS virtual environment will contain its own simulation capabilities, thanks to an embedded
physical engine, able to simulate e.g. collisions, dynamics, soft bodies, etc. We intend to exploit and, if
needed, extend the physical engines available on the state of the art game engines. A physic engine will
allows for studying natural and artificial phenomena with appropriate ambient conditions for example:
testing dust behaviour at gravity conditions on Mars (natural phenomena), or driving a Martian rover
acting on velocity, friction and external forces (artificial phenomena). Virtual reality simulations are so
flexible that specific and reiterated tests could be performed several times in a row. This could be
accomplished for a variety of scenarios: for instance, training crew in performing particular difficult
actions could lead to find the best practice for a given task; simulating different terrain conformations
could help in finding possible troubles on the way of an autonomous, robotic vehicle; pushing the use of
some mechanical component to the limit could suggest how resilient it is to external stresses, its risk
threshold and so on.
To be noted that, at least at the beginning, the V-ERAS stations will not be equipped with haptic and/or
tactile interfaces to the human operators. Human virtual models will instead interact with the virtual
environment in a pure simulation technique. These human virtual models will be avatars, controlled by
real human crewmembers. We do intend to add haptic/tactile capabilities as future enhancement of the
For the V-ERAS development we are going to profit of the recent availability on the consumer market at
reasonable cost of cutting edge technologies and components such as the Kinect Xbox 360 or the
Oculus Rift VR headset. The Fig. 1-1 report a rendering of a single V-ERAS station as currently
Within the V-ERAS immersive VR simulation scenarios it will be possible to explore many human
habitability, ergonomics and health areas: architecture, acoustics, command structure, communications,
human-robot interfaces, crew interface / displays, exercise, EVA, group interaction, scheduling, training,
crew health management.
For what concern the human-robot interfaces area, in ERAS we have already some parallel advanced
robotics projects ongoing and their integration in V-ERAS, leading to the development of capabilities
such as VR based telerobotics, is already being planned and is part of the future developments.
Considering its critical importance also to support human analog crew rotations, we are instead
embedding crew health monitoring in V-ERAS from its inception. Continuous monitoring of
crewmembers health is key to anticipate any issue and develop appropriate countermeasure activities
The availability of a crew health monitoring will be instrumental, trough the V_ERAS crew rotations
program, for the establishment of the knowledge, methods and standards for designing an integrated,
autonomous, crew health management system.