ST. LOUIS — Space launch operations at Cape Canaveral, the nation’s busiest spaceport, were recently replicated in a digital 3D “metaverse” that merged virtual and physical worlds. 

The demonstration, funded by the Space Force’s Spaceport Integration Office, simulated launches using real-world telemetry data from commercial rockets and Maxar’s high-resolution satellite imagery of Cape Canaveral.  The data was merged using Cesium visualization software, Unreal Engine’s computer graphics game engine and NVIDIA’s Omniverse collaboration platform.

The spaceport simulation is an example of how the military can take advantage of metaverse technology, Jennifer Arnold, head of NVIDIA’s federal business, said May 21 at the GEOINT 2023 symposium.

Space Launch Delta 45, the unit that oversees the Florida space launch ranges, will use the technology to help plan future operations in the face of growing congestion and increased launch rates. The Space Force, for example, will need to predict demands on the range’s resources and plan upgrades to the communications infrastructure and the sensor network. 

The Space Force’s Chief Technology & Innovation Office has advocated for the use of metaverse technologies for training and learning about the space environment. 

Cape Canaveral’s digital twin combined Maxar’s enhanced 3D imagery with actual rocket telemetry data provided by SLD 45, said Arnold. “So we launched a rocket and we were able to tell geospatially what was within that domain and within that area, taking in direct sensor feeds.” 

The Space Force established the Spaceport Integration Office in July to help improve coordination. 

The demonstration, which officials discussed in a webinar in April, was also a test case for the merging and exchange of data. Cesium provided a plug-in for Unreal Engine and for Maxar’s geospatial data. 

The physical data from SLD 45 was merged with NVIDIA’s visualization engine. The engine uses the standard known as Universal Scene Description, a framework for  the exchange of 3D computer graphics data, originally created by the Pixar movie studio.

The spaceport imagery came from Maxar’s 3D digital twin of the Earth it developed for the U.S. Army for immersive training. 

‘We need to stop saying metaverse’

The metaverse is mostly associated with entertainment and gaming, although it has real utility for national security, said David Sracic, technical lead at the U.S. Navy’s Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division.

Sracic oversees the development of decision support software for undersea warfare. This requires advanced mapping technology, weather models and other data so sailors position the ship and sensors to execute the mission successfully, he said May 21 at GEOINT. 

“Underpinning all of that is new technology which arguably says metaverse,” he said. 

But trying to get funding in the Pentagon’s budget for metaverse technology can be problematic, he said. “Our national defense strategy doesn’t ask for a metaverse. So how do you advocate for budgets?”

“We need to stop saying metaverse,” Sracic said. “Part of it is a vocabulary challenge … People ask why are you building a video game?”

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...