Training for assembly procedures mostly makes use of physical models of the actual hardware. Because of this approach, cost of training is generally high and the level of flexibility to accommodate changes in configurations is low. Furthermore, as physical models are manufactured at discrete moments in the development program, the availability of these models and therefore the actual moment of training is predefined and fixed. Moreover, in a commercial space environment where recurrence in hardware production and integration is to be expected, it is essential to retain knowledge of applied processes and procedures in these fields.
When using an immersive tool to capture the knowledge on how to apply these procedures, that data can at a later stage unambiguously be transferred to new project participants or new employees. This has the added benefit of lowering the need for a certain skill level in the labour force which inevitably leads to cost reduction.
Because of the above, ATG Europe is developing a Virtual Reality tool aimed at training of generic mechanical assembly and integration processes. To accommodate a larger group of users, these generic processes shall be based on best practices in assembly and integration. The project, named ICARUS, is funded by the European Space Agency.
It seems obvious that most value coming from a VR training tool is added to programs which are recurring in nature, in other words where assembly is a well-defined (documented) process which is passed on through the company or a program over time. In the space domain this is evidently applicable to CubeSat programs more than to (one-off) developments of large science or earth observation satellites. For this reason ATG Europe has teamed up in this project with ISISpace, one of the leading companies in the fast-growing small satellite market. ISISpace will provide the best practices for assembly and integration as well as the models of the hardware.
For ATG this development fits in a larger development that feeds into a longer-term goal of supporting assembly and integration with the use of immersive technologies. Within the frame of this larger development, ATG has already developed a Virtual Reality powered conceptual design tool for harnessing purposes (VR-HADES). The company is focusing further on the use of Mixed Reality to support AIT processes. This is first and foremost foreseen to be an evolution and add-on to the current tool development, as in the ideal case a user could move from training in VR to remote supported instructions in MR using mostly the same assets for both immersive experiences. The role of the VR tool towards the MR tool would be comparable with that of a flight simulator towards a guided flight lesson.
By building up the above-mentioned suite of tools, ATG expects to develop a competitive position in the space domain, primarily in the CubeSats hardware integration, but eventually also in other sectors such as subsystem integration in various industries.
Note: the view expressed in this publications can in no way be taken to reflect the official opinion of the European Space Agency