Immersive Space Education and Training: Why It Matters

February, 2 2021
Slingshot Orbital Laboratory graphic

Immersive Experiences & Space Training 

Immersive experiences are popular and powerful, from inventive marketing campaigns to video games. But long before virtual and augmented reality hit the mainstream, immersive technology was an educational tool.  

An iconic example is the Link Trainer, one of the world's first flight simulators. Designed by Edin Albert Link in the late 1920s, and built and sold from the 1930s to the early 1940s, the ‘Blue Box’ became an integral part of pilot training programs for the Allied forces during World War II. 

The Link Trainer reflects a simple fact: simulations can be much more than entertainment. Truly immersive experiences provide a safe and controlled environment in which to learn and improve skills, maintain proficiency, and mitigate risk.  

Immersive experiences are characterized by the use of technology to enhance our perception. Movie theaters, virtual reality headsets, and the Link Trainer all have these few elements in common...

A shift in distance

Immersion changes our distance in relation to a subject. The point of this perspective shift is to make it feel like we’re a part of the action, switching our position from spectator to participant.   

A sensory response

When the perspective shifts, our senses react. We see, hear, feel, and engage with a subject in greater depth when we’re immersed in it. 

A cognitive reaction

All of which provokes a cognitive response. Gaining a better perspective and greater sensory exposure enhances our ability to learn and understand a subject. 

After preparing Allied pilots, later iterations of the Link Trainer were used to train the Apollo astronauts for the moon landing. Which brings us to space, a working environment that’s more challenging than any other to provide adequate training. 

Understanding ‘alien’ concepts

Training space operators, analysts, and mission planners is a challenge because the rules in space are different. The contrast between Earth’s surface and orbit in terms of atmosphere, radiation, and gravity is monumental. Concepts as fundamental as motion, alongside the mechanics of physics we all take for granted, have to be re-learned and considered from a different perspective. 

As a result, anyone joining the industry and hoping to navigate the complexities of space needs a fundamental understanding of astrodynamics to operate effectively. Students of space must untangle disparate concepts and established biases to make informed hypotheses about events in the past, present and future. 

Only a tiny number of people have experienced space firsthand. The vast majority of industry members spend their entire careers never performing in the environment their work is focused on. This lack of direct domain experience creates a barrier to comprehension and performance limitations. 

UX and tapping into the familiar

The only way forward is to make the unfamiliar, familiar - to develop an immersive platform that allows users to explore the physical context of space before introducing the finer details. 

But making sense of the alien isn’t easy. The way we learn relies heavily upon our personal, lived experience. Human brains are wired to pattern-match, assimilate the past, and project it onto our understanding of the present. Any immersive space training platform must therefore incorporate the User Experience (UX) concept, Jakob's Law, which says that users transfer expectations they have built around one product onto others that appear similar.  

In terms of a regular website or app, this means users prefer to browse pages and use software that is functionally similar to what they are accustomed to. For immersive space-training platforms, the same logic applies. 

For any successful space training simulator, the focus has to be on learning the mechanics of space rather than the mechanics of the training platform. Fortunately, this feat can be accomplished with a seamless user experience that leverages existing mental models. 

The greatest challenge is to minimize discordance, which is almost guaranteed when trying to comprehend the dynamics of space for the first time. When our past experiences of how things behave don’t translate to space, educators and instructors need one thing above all else: better training tools.  

Immersive collaboration, with added astrodynamics

‘Lightbulb’ moments are the holy grail of immersive training platforms. When complex maneuvers become muscle memory through intuitive practice, everybody wins. 

In order to facilitate those moments, multiple avenues for students to experience new concepts - preferably in ways that align with their preferred learning patterns - need to be utilized.  

How instructors manage and interact with the process is also important. Immersive training platforms should be adaptable and responsive, so that hands-on, eyes-on, and ears-on experiences can be developed and iterated. 

But immersion can and should be more than a visual experience. Done well it can be dynamic and all-encompassing, driving students to experiment, test, and practice in ways that build understanding.

Sending students to space (no liquid Hydrogen required)

Slingshot Laboratory does all of the above and more. We are launching an immersive space education and training platform that focuses on the foundations of astrodynamics. And we’re doing so with usability at the forefront. 

Slingshot Laboratory reveals layers of complexity as students progress, minimizing discordance and simplifying the onboarding process. After all, why should you force a user to work with a Kalman filter before they’ve understood the foundational concepts of orbit determination?

When developing a training tool for an arena as complex as orbit, ease of use is critical. Slingshot Laboratory was built using the latest web 3D technologies to create immersive comprehension for users at every stage. 

With virtual and augmented reality (and eventually mixed reality) experiences at your fingertips - using a smartphone, tablet, or PC - instructors can engage students dynamically. Collaboration is built-in alongside the fluidity to move between a computer screen and an immersive experience, keying gestures and motions to manipulate data and tag annotations as you go.

During the development of the Slingshot Laboratory, particularly with our early adopter partners, we’ve received feedback from industry experts in the Space Force, such as the National Security Space Institute, 533rd Training Squadron, STAR Delta, SMC, and S3/7 as well as the United States Air Force Academy to ensure the user is at the center of every design decision we make. 

Space education and training are evolving. We are humbled to be a part of creating a new paradigm for the next generation of students. 

If you’re interested in learning more about Slingshot Laboratory and joining our waitlist, please visit slingshotaerospace.com/slingshot-laboratory

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