Force-feedback with Immersive Technology Suit (FITS)
Force-feedback with Immersive Technology Suit (FITS) is GSP study conducted by the Belgian company Space Application Services.
The study initiated with the intention of investigating potential use of immersive Virtual Reality (VR) and force-feedback technologies in support to astronaut training. Preparation of an astronaut is costly, complex and has limitations, mostly due to the limited availability and high-manintenance costs of the training facilities.
With FITS, ESA wants to evaluate how feasible and useful can force feedback and immersive technologies be in support of, or in replacement of, standard astronaut training facilities. To do this, the Space Application Services developed two designs within the FITS study: an On-Ground (OG) concept and On-Board (OB) concept.
On-Ground (OG) concept
The OG FITS concept was driven by the rationales of making the concept flexible and scalable, finding a near optimal trade-off regarding training effectiveness, satisfying the need for geographical distribution, keeping the overall setup price affordable (modular and upgradeable setup, COTS) and containing the required space.
On the trainee side, the proposed OG FITS concept consists of a full body exoskeleton along with an HMD for visual VR immersion of the user. The setup is mounted horizontally on a 6 degrees of freedom parallel actuator (Stewart platform), that is used to initiate vestibular feedbacks. The horizontal position was considered an interesting approach to simulating microgravity. Along with the full body exoskeleton suit and the actuation platform, the proposed solution is expected to be very effective at tricking the user’s perception of gravity.
On-Board (OB) concept
The OB FITS concept was driven by the rationals of making the concept flexible and compatible with multiple users training (also mix ground/board sessions), finding a near optimal trade-off regarding training effectiveness and keeping mass, volume and energy consumption budgets reasonable for such a training payload.
The proposed OB FITS concept shares a lot with the OG setup. It consists in the same manner in a full body exoskeleton along with an HMD for visual VR immersion of the user. The setup is mounted on a 6 degrees of freedom parallel actuator (Stewart platform), that is typically fixed to a standard rack slot. The overall setup is expected to be able to trick user’s perception with a feeling of gravity (e.g. Moon, Mars and Earth levels of gravity).
The ground FITS (OG) was first intended to substitute to, or complement existing training facilities at ESA. As such, FITS could allow more flexible crew training and enable new training paradigms such as multi-crew, geographically distributed joint training configurations.
The on-board FITS (OB) may serve several purposes. It may be used to fill a gap as refresher training (or proficiency training) enabler or allowing on-the-fly training with new skills, that could not be trained on Earth before the mission. Sometimes instructors can support the O/B crew refresher training from Earth in addition. In addition OB FITS design may be provisioned to also include countermeasure mechanisms and capabilities, in order to be exploited as a mean to maintain crew health over long flight durations.
The FITS study resulted in force feedback and immersive training facility concepts both for ground based (OG) and on-board (OB) applications. The 2 concepts have a lot in common, though specific constraint for a space setup resulted in trade-offs regarding the mass, power and volume budgets. Challenges like microgravity simulation capability and multi-site, geographically distributed training implementation have been taken into account in the proposed concepts.
With this early study the Belgian company came up with really interesting conclusions. The proposed concepts gave evidences that a FITS facility is not only technologically feasible, scientifically interesting but also economically viable and pertinent. The FITS roadmap envisages concrete, progressive OG setup implementation over a four years long period and a 3 phase breakdown, each phase resulting in exploitable outcomes for astronaut training. FITS could be a unique asset with provision both for crew training (including proficiency training and cross-certification) and for microgravity induced health condition countermeasure – all in one, thus minimizing required space and mass.
For further information please contact:
Study Technical Officer
ESA/ESTEC Mechatronics & Optics Division (TEC/MMA)
T: +31 (0)7 1565 4403
Frederic.Didot @ esa.int
ESA General Studies Programme Manager (PPC-PF)
T: +33 (0)1 5369 7623
Andres.Galvez @ esa.int