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GeekWire

‘The Infinite’ puts you aboard a VR space station

TACOMA, Wash. — One tour of the International Space Station is not enough, even if you do the tour in virtual reality.

I found that out when I explored “The Infinite,” a cleverly conceived VR presentation that draws upon more than 250 hours’ worth of 3-D video shot aboard (and outside) the space station over the course of nearly three years.

After months-long runs in Montreal and Houston, the show … or exhibit … or whatever you want to call it … landed at the Tacoma Armory late last month and is open to visitors through July 31.

The best way to describe “The Infinite” is to call it an immersive experience — an entertainment genre of relatively recent vintage that would also include the immersive Van Gogh exhibits that are making their way around the world. (One such exhibit recently wrapped up its Tacoma run, and another is still playing in Seattle.)

Even by the standards of immersive experience, “The Infinite” is in a class by itself.

“People don’t necessarily realize that this is the largest virtual-reality experience that has ever been created, in terms of size and in terms of capacity of people,” Felix Lajeunesse, co-founder of Felix & Paul Studios and chief creative officer for “The Infinite,” told me after my first encounter with the experience. “We can have up to 150 people sharing that collective experience at the same time, walking inside a 7,000-square-foot open space.’

So what do they experience?

Imagine putting on a VR headset, walking through outer space with the Northern Lights above you, and floating right through the hull of the ISS to peek in on what the astronauts are doing. You might be gathering with the crew around their makeshift dinner table for a birthday party, or watching them get ready for a spacewalk, or looking over their shoulders as they gaze through the station’s giant picture window while the Earth spins below.

You’re not just watching a movie. It’s as if you’re in the movie.

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Universe Today

NASA will rent future spacesuits from two suppliers

NASA has struck deals with two commercial teams to provide the spacesuits destined for use when astronauts return to the moon by as early as 2025 — and there’s an extra twist that might have sounded alien to the Apollo moonwalkers a half-century ago. This time, NASA won’t own the suits.

Under the terms of the contracts issued for Exploration Extravehicular Activity Services, or xEVAS, Collins Aerospace and Axiom Space will own the spacesuits. They’ll also be free to explore non-NASA commercial applications for the data and the technologies they develop in partnership with NASA.

NASA will purchase services from Collins and Axiom to fill the space agency’s spacewalking (and moonwalking) needs through 2034. The contracts have a combined maximum potential value of $3.5 billion, with the actual payout for each company determined by how NASA divvies up its task orders.

The model builds upon the precedents set by NASA’s commercialization of crew transport and cargo delivery services for the space station. A similar model was followed last year when NASA awarded a $2.9 billion contract to SpaceX for the Artemis program’s lunar lander.

“With these awards, NASA and our partners will develop advanced, reliable spacesuits that allow humans to explore the cosmos unlike ever before,” Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, said today in a news release. “By partnering with industry, we are efficiently advancing the necessary technology to keep Americans on a path of successful discovery on the International Space Station and as we set our sights on exploring the lunar surface.”

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GeekWire

Starliner space taxi’s success paves way for crewed flight

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner space capsule landed safely amid the sands of New Mexico after a six-day test flight to the International Space Station and back.

This trip was uncrewed — assuming you don’t count a sensor-equipped mannequin nicknamed Rosie the Rocketeer as a crew member. But living, breathing astronauts could fly on Starliner as soon as this year.

All went well today with Starliner’s descent from the space station and its parachute-aided, airbag-cushioned landing at White Sands Missile Range, Cheers arose at NASA’s Mission Control in Houston, where the final stages of the flight test were being tracked.

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GeekWire

Starliner docks with space station after ‘excruciating’ wait

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner space taxi docked with the International Space Station for the first time today during an uncrewed flight test, marking one more big step toward being cleared to carry astronauts to orbit. But it wasn’t easy.

“The last few hours have been excruciating,” Kathy Lueders, NASA’s associate administrator for space operations, acknowledged during a post-docking teleconference for journalists.

Despite a few glitches, Lueders and other leaders of the NASA and Boeing teams said they were generally pleased with Starliner’s performance, beginning with its May 19 launch from Florida and continuing with today’s hours-long series of orbital maneuvers.

“We’ve learned so much from this mission over the past 24 hours,” Lueders said.

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GeekWire

Boeing’s Starliner space taxi lifts off for second test flight

Two and a half years after an initial orbital flight test fell short, Boeing is trying once again to put its CST-100 Starliner space capsule through an uncrewed trip to the International Space Station and back.

United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket sent Starliner spaceward from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida at 6:54 p.m. ET (3:54 p.m. PT) today. Boeing and NASA are hoping that this second orbital flight test, known as OFT-2, will pave the way for Starliner’s first crewed flight later this year.

Within OFT-2’s first hour, Starliner separated from the Atlas 5 rocket’s Centaur upper stage and executed an engine burn to reach its intended orbit. “It’s a major milestone to get behind us, but it is really just the beginning,” NASA commentator Brandi Dean said. “We’ve got a number of demonstrations now that the Starliner will have to go through ahead of its International Space Station arrival.”

Boeing has received billions of dollars from NASA to develop Starliner as an alternative to SpaceX’s Crew Dragon for sending astronauts into orbit. NASA’s arrangement with SpaceX and Boeing has been compared to a taxi service, with the space agency paying the spacecraft providers for rides.

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Universe Today

Axiom’s first astronauts end an extended space trip

Axiom Space’s first crew of private astronauts is back on Earth after a 17-day orbital trip that included a week of bonus time on the International Space Station.

The mission ended at 1:06 p.m. ET (10:06 a.m. PT) today when SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Endeavour splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida.

Former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria was the commander for the homeward trip, accompanied by three investors who each paid Axiom $55 million for their rides: Ohio real-estate and tech entrepreneur Larry Connor, who served as the mission pilot, plus Canada’s Mark Pathy and Israel’s Eytan Stibbe.

“Welcome back to planet Earth,” SpaceX’s mission control operator Sarah Gillis told the crew. “The Axiom-1 mission marks the beginning of a new paradigm for human spaceflight. We hope you enjoyed the extra few days in space.”

Axiom-1 began on April 8 with the Florida launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The trip was originally supposed to last about 10 days, but concerns about weather in the splashdown zone delayed the descent. Because of the way their fares were structured, Axiom’s customers didn’t have to pay extra for the extension.

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Cosmic Space

Private astronauts get down to work on the space station

Axiom Space’s first quartet of private astronauts settled in on the International Space Station today after dealing with a glitch that cropped up during their approach.

The crew’s arrival aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule had to be delayed about 45 minutes while mission controllers at SpaceX and NASA sorted out an issue with a video system designed to monitor the docking using a camera aboard the space station.

After the video signal was re-routed, docking took place at 8:29 a.m. ET (5:29 a.m. PT). “We’re happy to be here, even though we’re a bit late,” said Michael Lopez-Alegria, the former NASA astronaut who’s commanding the mission for Houston-based Axiom Space.

A little less than two hours after docking, Lopez-Alegria and Axiom’s three customers — Larry Connor, Mark Pathe and Eytan Stibbe — floated through the hatch to become the first completely private-sector crew to visit the space station.

The seven long-term residents of the space station — representing the U.S., Russia and the European Space Agency — greeted them with hugs and handshakes. Then the full complement of 11 faced the cameras for a welcome ceremony that incorporated a new tradition.

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GeekWire

AI gets tested on space station, starting with gloves

“Check my spacewalking gloves, HAL.”

The HAL 9000 computer that starred in “2001: A Space Odyssey” — and made such a mess of maintenance issues on the Discovery One spaceship — isn’t on the job on the International Space Station. But Microsoft and Hewlett Packard Enterprise are teaming up with NASA to put artificial intelligence to work on mundane orbital tasks, starting with the chore of checking spacewalkers’ gloves for wear and tear.

That’s just one of two dozen experiments in AI, cloud and edge computing that have been run on HPE’s Spaceborne Computer-2 since the hardware was sent to the space station a year ago.

“We’re bringing AI to space and empowering space developers off the planet with Azure, and it’s enabling the ability to build in the cloud and then deploy in space,” Steve Kitay, senior director of Azure Space at Microsoft, told me.

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Universe Today

NASA details its plans for space station’s doom in 2031

NASA says it plans to plunge the vestiges of the International Space Station into a remote part of the Pacific Ocean known as Point Nemo in early 2031, after passing the baton to commercial space stations.

In an updated transition report just delivered to Congress, the space agency detailed the endgame for the space station, which has been hosting international crews continuously since the year 2000 — and hinted at what its astronauts would be doing in low Earth orbit after its fiery destruction.

“The private sector is technically and financially capable of developing and operating commercial low-Earth-orbit destinations, with NASA’s assistance,” Phil McAlister, NASA’s director of commercial space, said in a news release. “We look forward to sharing our lessons learned and operations experience with the private sector to help them develop safe, reliable, and cost-effective destinations in space.”

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Universe Today

Tom Cruise movie’s producers plan space studio

The production company that’s playing a key role in a space movie project involving Tom Cruise says it’s working with Axiom Space to add a sports and entertainment facility to the International Space Station by the end of 2024.

The inflatable module, known as SEE-1, would be built by Axiom for Space Entertainment Enterprise and attached to the commercial complex that Axiom is already planning to put on the space station, SEE said today in a news release.

The facility would provide a studio for film, TV and music production as well as a space for performances and sports events. “SEE-1 is an incredible opportunity for humanity to move into a different realm and start an exciting new chapter in space,” said SEE’s co-founders, Dmitry and Elena Lesnevsky.

Dmitry Lesnevsky made his name in Russia as a film/TV producer, publisher and a co-founder of REN TV, but SEE is based in London. The Lesnevskys are listed among the producers of the unnamed Tom Cruise space film project, which has the support of SpaceX and NASA. (SpaceX founder Elon Musk is listed as a producer as well.)

Axiom Space, which has struck a deal with SpaceX to send its first customers on a visit to space station later this year, is expected to facilitate the Tom Cruise project, but the timing for that project has not been announced. It’s not yet clear whether the Tom Cruise project would make use of SEE-1.