Skytek’s Augmented Reality technology supports the search for life on Jupiter’s icy moons

The Mission

JUpiter ICy moons Explorer is the first large-class mission in ESA’s Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 programme. Its main mission will be to explore the huge planet’s three largest icy moons in the hope of determining whether life is possible on these dwarf planets.

Planned for launch in 2022 and arrival at Jupiter in 2029, it will spend at least three years making detailed observations of the giant gaseous planet Jupiter and three of its largest moons, Ganymede, Callisto and Europa. It will complete a unique tour of the Jupiter system that will include in-depth studies of the three potentially ocean-bearing satellites. The Jupiter tour includes several flybys of each planet-sized world, culminating with orbit insertion around Ganymede, the largest moon in the Solar System, followed by nine months of operations in its orbit. 

JUICE will carry the most powerful scientific payload ever flown to the outer Solar System. It consists of 10 state-of-the-art instruments plus one experiment that uses the spacecraft telecommunication system with ground-based radio telescopes. JUICE’s instruments will enable scientists to compare each of these icy satellites and to investigate the potential for such bodies to harbour habitable environments such as subsurface oceans. They will also carry out observations of Jupiter, its atmosphere, magnetosphere, satellites and rings.

The 6.2 ton JUICE spacecraft will set off in 2022 on its near 600 million-kilometre-long journey to Jupiter. The spacecraft will carry 10 state-of-the-art scientific instruments, including cameras, spectrometers, an ice-penetrating radar, an altimeter, radio-science experiment, and sensors to monitor the magnetic fields and charged particles in the Jovian system.

Skytek Partnership

In July 2015, Airbus was selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) as the prime contractor for the design, development, production, and testing of the JUICE spacecraft.

Skytek in partnership with Airbus and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd are currently developing an Augmented Reality (AR) based solution to bring the latest technological advancement to support Assembly, Integration and Testing activities (AIT). To validate such a technological advancement in AIT processes, the JUICE spacecraft’s Network Data Interface Unit (NDIU) system was selected to use the developed AR solution and demonstrate the capabilities and benefits of AR for AIT test campaigns.

The AIT activities commenced in the Large Space Simulator (LSS) chamber of the European Space Agency (ESA) in Noordwijk (Netherlands), where the spacecraft has been moved in April 2021, after being built in the Airbus’ satellite integration centre in Friedrichshafen (Germany). 

Starting with 31 days in the vacuum chamber in the LSS, the spacecraft was exposed to the environmental conditions of space to prove it is ready for its journey via Venus and Mars to Jupiter.

At the ESA test centre at ESTEC in Noordwijk, the spacecraft is currently undergoing a full environmental test campaign including verifying its thermal control system and its electrical elements.

During this test campaign, Skytek’s AR technology was used within the ESA AIT test facility to support AIT engineers operate and configure the JUICE NDIU equipment. Operators performed tasks on the NDIU equipment guided by the AR application deployed on a HoloLens 2 device. Individual NDIU elements are highlighted within the AR environment with supporting AIT instructions explaining the NDIU detailed configuration steps. AIT testing using the AR application for the JUICE spacecraft currently continue at the ESA ESTEC facility.

“Building upon Skytek’s technical expertise in the provision of procedural support system such as IPV Tablet, used daily by the crew on the ISS, and extending the technology to use augmented reality clearly demonstrates how the integration of the latest technology can provide real measurable advantages to end users. The ability to see operator instructions on screen, combined with equipment telemetry and having a ‘virtual assistant’ that maps the real world and can visually interact with AIT equipment provides the benefits of an improvement in safety while also increasing operator accuracy and efficiency” said Paul Kiernan, CTO of Skytek.

Upon completion of testing the spacecraft will head for Airbus in Toulouse for flight configuration assembly and final environmental tests including electromagnetic compatibility (EMC), mechanical, deployment, and propulsion, later this year. Finally, the spacecraft will be shipped to the launch site in Kourou, French Guiana.

“This is another exciting project to support and could lead to some of the most fascinating discoveries in humankind. Skytek’s Augmented Reality (AR) Technology will allow Test Engineers to be virtually immersed in the spacecraft, virtually implementing the procedures, and operating as if they were physically inside the mission. This simulation of the real-world environment supports the engineers to run more efficient testing campaigns for the several procedures they need to perform at the AIT stage. This is exactly what this fast-paced Space environment needs right now, to cope with this ever-increasing speed and users’ expectations” said Rita Malosti, Skytek’s Head of Space Activities.

Further Reading: ESA latest news