1  V-ERAS Concept and objectives

1.1 Concept

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:

  1.  support for engineering activities
  2. crew training

Engineering activity will benefit from such models because :

  1.  early detection of weakness and critical points
  2.  the organization of entire system is optimized
  3. 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.