NASA Reviews Repairs by Simulating Zero Gravity

Feb. 3, 2004
Lake Forest, CA, February 5, 2004. NASA is using a 10-camera VICON optical motion capture solution to evaluate potential tile damage review and repair procedures for the Space Shuttles. The NASA's Anthropometry and Biomechanics Facility at Lyndon-Johnson Space Center has installed the system to track crew member and tool movement in a range of zero-gravity simulations to zone in on what maneuvers astronauts might safely and effectively perform outside the spacecraft.

Lake Forest, CA, February 5, 2004. NASA is using a 10-camera VICON optical motion capture solution to evaluate potential tile damage review and repair procedures for the Space Shuttles. The NASA's Anthropometry and Biomechanics Facility at Lyndon-Johnson Space Center has installed the system to track crew member and tool movement in a range of zero-gravity simulations to zone in on what maneuvers astronauts might safely and effectively perform outside the spacecraft.

The current tests, being conducted using both NASA's Precision Air-Bearing Floor (PABF) and parabolic zero-g aircraft (KC-135), are aimed at giving crews a specific process for examining the Shuttle wing area, measuring any tile damage, determining if the damage can be fixed and completing the repair method prior to re-entry. Given the unique dynamics of space, the astronaut's approach (pitch angle) to the Shuttle's tile area, the range of motion and the translation rate of their jetpacks, the landing position and the orientation angles of their depth gauge instrument all need to be accurately factored in advance. These, as well as the interplay of other kinematic details and variables, are being studied via the precision performance of the VICON motion capture system.

Studies using NASA's PABF, a perfectly smooth steel floor whose frictionless operation mimics motion in zero gravity, involve outfitting astronauts and engineers with a full spacesuit, backpack and hand-held measurement tool, all of which are tagged with reflective VICON markers. As the suited subjects try out different combinations of approach angles, force and speed, 10 VICON SVCam cameras record and report their moves with millimeter exactness. Based on this information, changes and recommendations are made, the process is optimized and further tests are conducted.

Similar experiments are being done in NASA's parabolic reduced-gravity aircraft, which can simulate complete weightlessness for about 25-to-30 seconds at a time by flying in inverse arcs at 15,000-30,000 feet. Here, the sub-compact size of VICON's SVCam camera enabled easy installation within the confines of the aircraft cabin while still providing high accuracy with a wide field of view. The sophisticated calibration software from VICON was also instrumental in being able to calibrate the cameras in the challenging environment of the aircraft.

"VICON's SVCams were designed to offer both easy installation and high performance in tight spaces, like those seen in NASA's setup," said Mike Kocourek, Business Development Manager, VICON. "These applications obviously demand accuracy and dependability beyond question. If you have less than 60 seconds to study a maneuver in a speeding aircraft, or you're running tests with someone fully suited up in a Personal Life Support System, you can't have your motion capture equipment going down in that moment. It's been a real thrill to have VICON equipment installed to support NASA's leading-edge work."

VICON's motion tracking solution consists of high-resolution, high-frame-rate Vicon cameras built specifically for motion capture, a data-station to power up to 24 Vicon cameras and strobe illuminators and VICON software to process data streams in real time. Systems can be configured to incorporate the company's MCam2, VCam or SVCam cameras for extremely low-profile capture. VICON products are used within life science and engineering markets for such applications as biomechanics, data visualization, virtual prototyping, manufacturing and design.

For more information, visit www.vicon.com .

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