WASHINGTON — The U.S. Space Force has inked a $19.8 million deal with Microsoft to develop a virtual and mixed-reality training environment. This agreement positions the tech giant in the burgeoning military simulation market and expands its Azure cloud’s reach into space applications.

The one-year contract announced Jan. 5 is to continue work on an augmented reality space simulation tool that Microsoft started developing last year for the Space Systems Command in Los Angeles.

Dubbed the Integrated, Immersive, Intelligent Environment (I3E), the system features Microsoft’s HoloLens headsets, Azure cloud platform, and a mesh framework for building shared AR experiences. Together, these technologies enable an interactive model of space with accurately scaled orbital objects that users can manipulate in real time.

The I3E agreement gives Space Force guardians access to physics-based satellite behavior modeling, intelligence analysis tools and space war-gaming, said Col. Richard Kniseley, senior materiel leader for the Space Systems Command’s Commercial Space Office.

“This technology provides an unrivaled experience to better understand the space domain,” Kniseley said in a news release. “We need to expound upon every opportunity and partner with industry to allow our members to stay ahead in this rapidly evolving environment.”

Understand space ‘in depth’

According to Space Force guardians who have used I3E for training, the system provides singular insight into the dynamics of space. “Picking up a headset and being able to visually interact with the planet and satellites and understand space more in depth was mind-blowing,” said 1st Lt. Jordan Savage of SSC’s Information Mobility Branch.

Through a virtual desktop solution, the capability will ultimately be accessible enterprise-wide to guardians anywhere in the world, Steve Kitay, senior director of Azure Space, said Jan. 9 in a blog post.

“I3E establishes an immersive environment to train, prepare, and enhance the mission of guardians for current and future space-based scenarios,” Kitay added.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...