Crowd-funded project to provide VR views from International Space Station
Wed 12 Aug 2015
Short of civilian space flight itself, one of the key elements of the democratisation of space exploration has been the transmission of images from space back to Earth, such as the many stunning time-lapse videos of Earth from the International Space Station.
This is set to be taken a step further by the SpaceVR Kickstarter project, which aims to send a 3D, 360 degree camera – the Overview One – to the International Space Station’s Cupola module, thus allowing the images to be experienced by anyone on Earth with a virtual reality headset.
The SpaceVR camera is designed to be compatible with all existing VR headsets, whether the Samsung GearVR , Google Cardboard, upcoming models such as the HTC Vive, the Oculus Rift, or Fove (the first VR headset in the world to track the user’s eye movements); or any others.
SpaceVR is partnering with Made in Space to 3D print some of the components (specifically, the camera casing) on the International Space Station itself, where they’ll be combined with Earth-built parts by an astronaut, according to SpaceVR’s specifications.
Though they already have a functional engineering prototype, the rationale for making some of the finished camera in space is, according to SpaceVR’s Kickstarter page, “to keep payload weight low and derail any issues in the transportation of the casing.” (Presumably there’s also the fact that it’s just cool to manufacture parts in space.)
In order to launch the rest of the components to space, SpaceVR are also partnering with Nanoracks, whose speciality is getting payloads into space.
So far only 536 people have been to space, but this technology aims to bring the Overview Effect – seeing the Earth’s fragility from space and gaining from the resulting sense of perspective – to as many of the approximately 7 billion others as can afford access to the virtual reality technology. Now, potentially anyone will be able to have a ‘Galaxy Quest’ moment of seeing the Earth from space. One of the best examples of International Space Station time-lapse videos of Earth can be seen here, edited by Guillaume Juin, using video from the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Center.
While – as with any crowd-funding campaign – there are varying reward tiers depending on how much you donate, the minimum amount to get any significant VR content is $26, which gives you three months of 3D, 360 degree footage, streamed straight from the International Space Station to your VR headset. It’s estimated to become available in March 2016.
If the project surpasses its $500,000 funding goal, then SpaceVR have further plans for their camera, such as live-streaming (versus a delay of an unspecified amount of time), and more ambitiously, going to the Moon in 2017, an asteroid in 2022, and Mars in 2026.
There’s also the possibility of putting “a remote controllable cube-sat VR camera system” in orbit. Backers will then be able to control where it goes, and see through its eyes. The question is, with many backers, and presumably only such camera, who decides where it should go? Will each person get a ‘turn’ at controlling it, or perhaps they’ll have one vote each?
In any case, this project is definitely one to watch – in both senses.