NASA Is Seeking Custom AR Solutions For Space Suits

The AR solution must be able to withstand radiation, dust, and extreme temperatures.

NASA is exploring the idea of using augmented reality (AR) to help astronauts access important mission information and life-saving statistics that would be delivered through a heads-up display in their space suits in an effort to improve astronaut autonomy in real-time communication situations between Earth and space.

Last week, NASA released an RFI (request for information) asking for potential partners and suppliers for the development of an AR display system for its spacesuit. The space agency noted that it aims to create a spacesuit-compatible AR system that will feature a display, compute subsystems, and control system. The RFI was first spotted by Nextgov.

NASA noted that in the future, astronauts might need to rely on their own devices to perform their tasks due to the limited communication time between Earth and space. The proposed AR system could allow them to perform their duties in real-time without having to rely on constant communications.

According to NASA, the proposed AR system would allow astronauts to communicate with Earth using a dynamic visual cue system. It would also help them make informed decisions on their own while traveling beyond the planet. The agency noted that the project, which is currently being led by its Johnson Space Center, is part of a much larger initiative that involves multiple agencies.

In NASA’s RFI posted on Sam.Gov, the space agency requests solutions focused on a system that can provide a minimal amount of intrusive information to astronauts while they’re in the suit with the goal of using AR “to comfortably display information to the suited crew member via a minimally intrusive see-through display.” 

The AR solution needed to be something outside of the current device available on the market. According to the RFI, NASA doesn’t want to use head-worn display configurations due to the various system integration issues that each unique mission might encounter.

NASA noted that their spacesuit currently has limitations that prevent the development of traditional head-up display (HUD) designs. However, the agency is currently looking into alternative display options that could be integrated into the suit.

NASA would like the suits to have dual-colored and monocular displays. These should be relatively low-profile and should not interfere with the actions of the astronauts. The agency also said that these should be located inside or outside the suit’s bubble mold line.

In addition to being able to operate in 100% oxygen, NASA also noted that the suits should have powered components that can withstand the effects of being in space, such as radiation, dust, and extreme temperatures, and should also have flexible mounts that can accommodate an AR display. This will help minimize the conflict between the display and the other components in the suit.

Field tests conducted by NASA have shown that the suits should have flexible display panels that can adjust the amount of information that the astronauts can view while looking at various objects at different distances. According to their engineers, this will help improve the usability of the space suits.

According to NASA’s RFI, one of the most critical factors that set Joint AR apart from other systems is its ability to comfortably exhibit information to the crew member. Due to various operational and system issues, head-worn display configurations are currently not being considered. However, this is not the case with conventional head-mounted display systems. Instead, Joint AR is designed to utilize decoupled display configurations.

In addition, the eye box for suit operations will need to be significantly larger than that of head-mounted systems. Other key factors companies need to consider when submitting a solution are:

Eye box: 50 x 50mm or larger

Field of View: 30 deg. or larger

Eye Relief: 40 to 100mm, depending on user anthropometry and head position

Brightness: 1000 nits or more, assuming a see-through transmission of 70% or more

Mass: Entire system should be less than 4 lbs

Power: Entire system should require less than 5Watts

To help with collecting the right information, NASA has provided several questions and areas for respondents to address in their RFI, such as how current AR systems could be modified or scaled to meet the agency’s requirements, how new technologies under development could satisfy these requirements, and what is the feasibility of their request.

Responses are due to the NASA contracting officer on March 17, 2023, by 5 pm EST. For more information visit here.

Image Credit: NASA

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