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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Planning for Space in Space

NASA looks to Draper for ways to better prepare for long missions

CAMBRIDGE, MA – Astronauts will rely on a large amount of hardware during the lengthy trips to distant locations like NASA’s planned journey to Mars. As seen in the recent movie “The Martian,” crews need equipment for purposes including communicating with people back on Earth, exercising to offset the muscle loss that occurs in micro-gravity, and operating the spacecraft itself. With room inside at a premium, designers will be challenged as they lay out the interiors of these spacecraft.

Draper is helping NASA better understand how astronauts use a spacecraft’s interior by developing a device that will track them as they move through the International Space Station. Draper engineers achieved successful results during initial testing of a prototype version of the device at NASA’s Johnson Space Center last month.

By having members of the ISS crew wear the device daily, NASA can build three dimensional models of the crew’s use of the habitat, and use those models to inform and improve designs of future spacecraft to maximize available workspace.

“Astronauts are likely going to spend several months in a relatively small spacecraft while they’re on their way to and from Mars,” said Kevin Duda, Draper’s principal investigator for the effort. “Gaining a better understanding of how they use the ISS can help NASA make sure that they have a layout that accommodates the right equipment, and enables them to do their daily work as efficiently as possible.”

The Draper device incorporates low-cost commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) optical and inertial sensing technology. Data from those sensors are fused using Draper’s algorithms to provide continuous accurate information about astronaut’s movement and orientation within the ISS.

Draper engineers carried a prototype version of the device as they moved through JSC’s ISS mockup, as well as through the center’s Human Exploration Research Analog, which is intended to replicate a deep space habitat. Initial results showed that the device accurately tracked them. Draper will use the data gathered at JSC to further refine position and orientation estimation algorithms and conduct a hardware trade study as the company reduces the prototype to a wearable size.  

The company is planning longer demonstrations, working with a former astronaut, in the ISS mockup this winter that are intended to better replicate a day’s work on the space station.

During testing at NASA JSC, Draper's device used visual features, represented here with colored dots, as reference points to help track engineers as they moved through the ISS mock-up.
Capabilities Used
Positioning, Navigation & Timing (PNT)

Draper develops novel PN&T solutions by combining precision instrumentation, advanced hardware technology, comprehensive algorithm and software development skills, and unique infrastructure and test resources to deploy system solutions. The scope of these efforts generally focuses on guidance, navigation, and control GN&C-related needs, ranging from highly accurate, inertial solutions for (ICBMs) and inertial/stellar solutions for SLBMs, to integrated Inertial Navigation System(INS)/GPS solutions for gun-fired munitions, to multisensor configurations for soldier navigation in GPS-challenged environments. Emerging technologies under development that leverage and advance commercial technology offerings include celestial navigation (compact star cameras), inertial navigation (MEMS, cold atom sensors), precision time transfer (precision optics, chip-scale atomic clocks) and vision-based navigation (cell phone cameras, combinatorial signal processing algorithms).

Precision Instrumentation

Draper develops precision instrumentation systems that exceed the state-of-the-art in key parameters (input range, accuracy, stability, bandwidth, ruggedness, etc.) that are designed specifically to operate in our sponsor’s most challenging environments (high shock, high temperature, radiation, etc.).  As a recognized leader in the development and application of precision instrumentation solutions for platforms ranging from missiles to people to micro-Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), Draper finds or develops state-of-the-art components (gyros, accelerometers, magnetometers, precision clocks, optical systems, etc.) that meet the demanding size, weight, power and cost needs of our sponsors and applies extensive system design capabilities consisting of modeling, mechanical and electrical design, packaging and development-level testing to realize instrumentation solutions that meet these critical and demanding needs.

Human-Centered Solutions

Draper has continued to advance the understanding and application of human-centered engineering to optimize the interaction and capabilities of the human’s ability to better understand, assimilate and convey information for critical decisions and tasks. Through its Human-Centered Solutions capability, Draper enables accomplishment of users’ most critical missions by seamlessly integrating technology into a user’s workflow. This work leverages human-computer interaction through emerging findings in applied psychophysiology and cognitive neuroscience. Draper has deep skills in the design, development, and deployment of systems to support cognition – for users seated at desks, on the move with mobile devices or maneuvering in the cockpit of vehicles – and collaboration across human-human and human-autonomous teams.

Image & Data Analytics

Draper combines specific domain expertise and knowledge of how to apply the latest analytics techniques to extract meaningful information from raw data to better understand complex, dynamic processes. Our system design approach encompasses effective organization and processing of large data sets, automated analysis using algorithms and exploitation of results. To facilitate user interaction with these processed data sets, Draper applies advanced techniques to automate understanding and correlation of patterns in the data. Draper’s expertise encompasses machine learning (including deep learning), information fusion from diverse and heterogeneous data sources, optimized coupling of data acquisition and analysis and novel methods for analysis of imagery and video data.

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