Lockheed Makes Spacecraft – Virtually

The virtual-reality technology that enables science-fiction movies to look more real is being applied to making real spacecraft more affordable. Motion capture and computer avatars, now staples of movie making, are key features of Lockheed Martin Space Systems’ newly opened Collaborative Human Immersive Laboratory (CHIL).

Video: Lockheed Martin

The CHIL is designed to help engineers evaluate new products and their associated production processes before they are built. The goal is to reduce risk and save both time and cost by identifying and solving hardware design issues and fine-tuning manufacturing methods before development or production begins, when it is easier and cheaper to make changes.

Motion-capture cameras track targets on the user’s head, hands, arms, legs and feet, and the data are used to animate an avatar within a virtual environment into which the user is immersed via a helmet-mounted display. As the operator moves, the avatar moves, allowing virtual interaction with the simulated spacecraft. Display walls allow observers to monitor the exercise.

Not a zombie movie remake. (Photo: Lockheed Martin)

Located at LM Space Systems’ headquarters in Littleton, Colorado, the CHIL is similar to the HIL – Human Immersive Laboratory – at LM Aeronautics in Ft Worth, Texas. In the HIL, virtual-reality is being used to find more efficient ways of maintaining the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, in a bid to reduce the cost of ownership.

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