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Experts from the military and industry discussed the development of the “SpaceVerse” during a webinar held by the National Training & Simulation Association on April 5, 2023.
In the webinar’s opening comments, Dr. Linda Brent, owner and CEO of the ASTA Group, defined the SpaceVerse as, “a new and bold vision established by the U.S. Space Force to embrace technical collaboration and create a digital metaverse that converges terrestrial and space physical and digital realities, providing a simulated environment for training.”
Jennifer Arnold, visualization executive for NVIDIA, led the conversation that featured several speakers discussing the various aspects and challenges of the SpaceVerse, and how NVIDIA, Cesium, Epic Games and Maxar Technologies collaborated while working with the U.S. Space Force and Space Launch Delta 45 (SLD 45) to demonstrate the SpaceVerse’s potential.
Participants included: Michael Torres, chief of digital infrastructure and SpaceVerse for the U.S. Space Force Chief Technology and Integration Office; Space Force Maj. Andrew Compton, Spaceport Integration Office commander; Shawn Walleck, director of operations for SLD 45’s Spaceport Integration; Tim Woodard, senior solutions architect at NVIDIA; Shashi Bhushan, principal engineer for NVIDIA’s DevTech Omniverse; Chris Shank, vice president for Defense & Space Programs at Maxar Technologies; Brady Moore, Mission Support director at Cesium; and Danny Williams, technical account manager at Epic Games.
Recurring themes during the webinar included interoperability, collaboration, and overcoming barriers to collaboration, often through open standards in SpaceVerse development.
Torres began by emphasizing the importance of improving the warfighter’s overall training experience and operationalizing capabilities to ensure the nation’s security and defending its interests. He went on to cite the power of open-standards exchange and the potential it presents to allow several entities to participate in the SpaceVerse ecosystem.
“Unity, Epic, Omniverse and other players in industry… should come together and focus on a common, open-standards exchange that allows for the unification of data in real time in a ‘verse of verses’ environment,” Torres said. “You can’t have a ‘verse of verses’ if they’re all the same. The goal is to drive open standards for exchange, and we need to come together as a community to create a ‘universal verse standards suite’ [and] figure out what that suite of standards will be for exchange across the entire stack to make this work.”
The Space Force established the Spaceport Integration Office in July 2022 to improve integration across the Spaceport, which Compton describes as “a busy and congested place.” Unprecedented growth in the commercial space industry in recent years has resulted in increased demand for launch operations. According to Compton, the launch rate has tripled since 2019, and is expected to grow by 50% with close to 100 launches in 2023.
“We recognize the need to aggressively tackle integrated operations between numerous stake holders,” Compton said. “That means we need to find better ways to integrate our planning and operations activities, and that’s really key to this modernization. Deconflicting [various] activities to keep pace with future demand for the Spaceport is critical… for us to keep up with increased launch cadence.”
Bhushan and Williams demonstrated a simulation of a rocket launch into orbit, which showcased a combination of data they’d received from SLD 45 and simulation capabilities, and it served as a prototype of collaboration among competitors. The demonstration incorporated telemetry data from various assets to display a common operating picture inside NVIDIA’s Omniverse.
“From that fused picture, we send it to visualization engines like NVIDIA’s Omniverse and Epic Games’ Unreal Engine,” Bhushan said. “In both of those engines, we’re able to co-simulate various aspects. The concept here is that the simulation will be fed back into a common operating picture and synchronized.”
Williams described contributions from other parties that went into the demonstration, which included a Cesium plug-in for Unreal Engine, as well as real-world geospatial data from Maxar. Universal Scene Description (USD), originally developed by Pixar Studios (not involved in the project), was a foundational element of the demonstration. Woodard detailed USD’s importance.
“Having a common language of describing the virtual environment allows for many simulations to collaborate together in one ecosystem,” Woodard said. “With the metaverse being the next iteration of the internet, you can think of USD as HTML. It’s a common language we can use to exchange information between applications, and it allows for a desegrated architecture [that allows] multiple applications to work together to provide a complete picture of what’s going on.”
Williams later cited the demonstration as a prototype of what was possible through collaborative efforts in establishing the SpaceVerse, and looked forward to future projects.
“We proved some ideas and raised a ton of new questions,” Williams said. “We already have discussions going on with this team and some broader players about how to build out the SpaceVerse – and what does that mean? What do we focus on from a standards perspective and what kind of data do we need to bring in? I think it’ll be very interesting to see what we do next.”
Torres’s closing thoughts involved lessons learned through the project’s success as a prototype in overcoming obstacles to future collaboration.
“This exercise proved two things,” Torres said. “One, there is no ‘proprietary’ that’s ‘too proprietary’ that it’s incompatible with an open-standards exchange model. Two, there is no set of competitors who are so separated that they can’t achieve success when they come together.”
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