Immersive Space Operations Training in Extended Reality

Daniel Stouch, Sean Guarino, Dan Duggan, Susan Latiff, Robert Hyland, Kimberly Brady

Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation, and Education Conference (I/ITSEC), Orlando, Florida (29 November 2023) 

The training of next-generation space operators for both commercial and military capabilities relies largely on analog physical models and PowerPoint lectures. Consequently, new operators do not often fully grasp the fundamentals and complexities of the space domain, including astrodynamics, threats, hazards, opportunities, and routing maneuvers–leading to longer training times, poor retention, and costly errors. New training methods involving augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), collectively extended reality (XR), have proven effective to educate and train students in many fields, and also has strong applicability for space education. We summarize the emerging state of the art in operational training techniques for space operations using XR, proven to reduce cognitive load, help new operators quickly understand complex scenarios, and make better, more informed decisions. These techniques include immersive, interactive, and collaborative engagement with representative space scenarios, considering maneuver tradeoffs, relative resident space object (RSO) positioning, and mission task deconfliction. 3D Volumetric XR Visualizations provide enhanced spatiotemporal understanding for proximity-based hazard assessments, tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) planning, and course of action (COA) evaluations within a configurable virtual environment. Synchronized AR overlays provide immersive shared access to user-level information and 3D satellite models, while variable timescales enable forward orbital propagation and backward forensic analysis to more completely understand complex orbital scenarios. Dynamic scenario creation tools enable challenging interactive student exercises, instructor-student synchronization accelerates learning through parallel hands-on training, and artificial intelligence (AI)-based skill tracking mechanisms intelligently track student proficiency. These advanced XR environments, combined effectively with well-formed training curricula and automatic skill tracking, will help train professional space operators to better manage complex spacecraft in the dynamic, contested environment beyond the Earth’s atmosphere. We report the outcome of multiple quantitative and qualitative XR space operation training evaluations that demonstrate the merit of the immersive approach.

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