The 'Moonyard': Developing a Mixed-Reality Approach to Planetary Surface Simulation

TitleThe 'Moonyard': Developing a Mixed-Reality Approach to Planetary Surface Simulation
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2010
AuthorsDi Capua M, Mirvis A, Akin DL
Conference NameAIAA International Conference on Environmental Systems
Date Published07/2010
Abstract

Future manned exploration of the Moon and Mars will impose unique and significant demands on the physical, cognitive, and psychological capabilities of astronauts, owing largely to the greatly increased duration of lunar surface operations when compared to Apollo. To enable long-duration stays, new systems must be implemented and tested, and astronauts trained to face unique scenarios. Functional mock-ups can be useful in revealing unexpected design challenges, as well as motivating unanticipated solutions. While extended mission simulations such as the NASA Desert RATS tests are critical for realistic Earth-based analogue studies, these extended field tests are complex to plan and expensive to conduct. The University of Maryland Space Systems Laboratory (SSL) has developed, and continues to enhance, an alternative lunar simulation/analogue environment, dubbed the “Moonyard”. In the Moonyard, functional and semi-functional mock-ups, including the ECLIPSE four-crew habitat, TURTLE two-crew pressurized rover, MX-3 research spacesuit, and various robotic systems are used in coordination to assess human factors aspects of operations on long-duration lunar missions. Through the use of head-mounted immersive displays and state-of-the-art graphic simulation environments, these physical mock-ups are incorporated into a mixed-reality environment, in which test subjects may be presented with virtual lunar landscapes, variable mission objectives, and realistic real-time simulated data, such as walk-back distance, remaining consumables, suit health, and the health and status of other suited crew and hardware involved in an operation. The goal of this system is to provide for realistic multi-day mission simulations of mixed rover/habitat operations, with high-fidelity EVA operations and rover driving tasks, without the expense and operational overhead of moving all of the simulation equipment into the field for testing. This allows for significantly greater test availability at much lower cost, while augmenting the simulation fidelity to the subjects. This report presents knowledge gained in the development of these systems, and focuses on using that knowledge and experience to develop requirements for, and implementations of, similar systems elsewhere. The report addresses considerations of modularity, costeffectiveness of functional mock-ups, operations and mission planning, and utilization of the mixed-reality analogue environment for human factors testing. While all-up Desert RATS-style field tests will always be critical for final verification, this paper examines the potential for multiple local mixed-reality simulation facilities to greatly augment the opportunities for planetary surface development and testing capabilities, providing a much greater range of opportunities for participation in the development of surface operations and planetary exploration technologies.