Group Editor Marty Kauchak monitored the recent webinar ‘SpaceVerse, a Grounded Approach to Reaching for the Stars,’ organized by the National Training & Simulation Association.
During the Space Launch Delta 45 demonstration project, the government-industry team of US Space Force, NVIDIA, Cesium, Epic Games, and Maxar Technologies advanced open standards, collaboration and other SpaceVerse underpinnings.
This was not a “one off” event. Beyond this proof of concept, opportunities exist for the wider S&T community to participate in follow-on activities to further advance SpaceVerse.
Space Force Perspectives
SpaceVerse is US Space Force’s vision to use technical collaboration to create a digital metaverse that provides terrestrial and space, physical and digital reality for persistent training and other missions.
“We’re looking at digital twinning, and modeling and simulation in a little bit of a different way,” Mike Torres, Chief of Digital Infrastructure and SpaceVerse, US SpaceForce, told webinar viewers. The technology executive reminded that one of the aspects of military operations is to figure out how to improve the overall experience of the warfighter and to operationalize these capabilities.
Torres summarized three guiding principles his command has established to realize its vision:
- “If we don’t figure out how to get beyond testing and training and have a live operational twin capability, we’re really not going to be able to achieve the metaverse expectation of the future internet replacement per se – live, on all the time and so on.”
- Second on the directorate chief’s list was the ability to move simulation across multiple platforms. Asserting that there will not be a “one platform win-it-all,” he continued, the entire S&T community, industry, government and academia must collaborate to solve the problem of live, real-time integration. “The way we see that isn’t by standardizing the platform, as much as it is standardizing the exchange of data at all layers of architecture,” he explained, and said this webinar should be viewed as an opportunity to discuss “the power of open exchange standards and, more important, the potential it presents to allow everyone to participate in this ecosystem without restricting or eliminating some of them.”
- Space Force is further attempting to expand what this editor views as a stodgy US DoD acquisition process by, in this instance, allowing competitive advantage to occur within this rich ecosystem sector. “In other words, Unity, Epic, Omniverse and all the other players in the industry don’t have to have a standardized platform. What they should do is come together and focus on a common, open standards exchange, and that will allow for the unification of data in real time in a verse of verses environment. You can’t have a verse of verses if all the verses have to be the same,” Torres emphasized.
Major Andrew Compton, Commander, Spaceport Integration Office, US Space Force Command, presented another requirement for SpaceVerse – to meet the increasing demand for his range’s resources from diverse commercial and government organizations. In one instance, since 2019, the launch rate from the Eastern Range complex has tripled. “We’re expecting another 50 percent growth in 2023 – close to 100 this year,” the commander elaborated, and added, “That’s why efforts such as SpaceVerse are critical in order to keep up with increased launch rate and other demands on the range’s resources.”
Introducing the USD Standard…
Sashi Brushan, Principal Engineer, DevTech at Omniverse at NVIDIA, focused on the optimization and use of data in the proof of concept. The corporate engineer first observed his team is not looking to bring in a new form for data. Rather, what sets his team apart from previous standards usage is the combination of geometry with the data. He pointed out, “The particular standard we are using here is USD (Universal Scene Description),” and added, “This is coming from Pixar and is starting to be standardized through the metaverse form. The idea here is that data, or that standardization, is to couple that live data, or physical data, with geometry data so you have good visualization.” After the data is ingested and interpolated between points, it is sent to the common operating picture and, in turn, to all visualization engines.”
Tim Woodard, a Senior Solutions Architect at NVIDIA, picked up on Brushan’s USD overview by further elaborating on the power of that standard and then highlighting his company’s Omniverse computing platform’s support of the SpaceVerse proof of concept. Woodard first pointed out USD enables co-simulations by having a common language for describing the virtual environment. “It allows for many simulations to collaborate together in one ecosystem. It allows you to describe geometry about the world and then layer information with that geometry that can literally describe anything you want.”
So, while metaverse has been likened to the next generation internet by many technology observers, this NVIDIA executive asked viewers to think of USD as HTML – a common language that can be used to exchange information between applications. “It allows for disaggregated architecture, where it can have multiple applications working together to provide a complete picture,” he noted. Pointing to Omniverse and Epic Games’ Unreal Engine supporting the launch proof of concept, Woodard then emphasized, “By having a common language we finally have a way of having that verse of verses.” With respect to NVIDIA’s Omniverse, all of these activities are managed in this product by way of real-time ‘connectors,’ or simple plug-ins that sit in each application, with each connector “being responsible for translating to and from each USD and whatever that application’s internal representation of the world is,” Woodard concluded.
Cesium's previous competencies in open standards and collaboration (represented in this Cesium for Unreal plug-in screen capture) helped advance the SpaceVerse project.
…and Cesium’s 3D Tiles
To Brady Moore, Director of Mission Support at Cesium, there are three core data challenges in defense simulation and digital twinning: data interoperability; repeatable systems integration; and system life cycle and sustainability.
Enter the second standard in play during the SpaceVerse proof of concept, Cesium’s 3D Tiles, an open standard for massive, heterogeneous 3D geospatial datasets such as point clouds, buildings, photogrammetry, and vector data. Moore hit several high notes of 3D Tiles’ successes in the proof of concept, including interoperability. Noting that some of the initial iterations of the demonstration were made with the Unity game engine, Cesium helped advance interoperability to further include Unreal Engine and Omniverse. The Cesium executive concluded, “Bringing in 3D Tiles with open-source plug-ins and extensions makes it easy for anyone to build on paths and avoid reinventing the wheel.”
Data Deep Dive
Maxar Technologies is bringing to bear a number of competencies to the SpaceVerse project, including its precise, 3D registered library, which is on the order of 30-50cm (12-20in) resolution with overall locational accuracy of less than 3m (10ft). “That is the type of synergy of building a commercial, remote-sensing constellation and then creating a foundational base on,” said Chris Shank, VP for Defense and Space Programs, Maxar.
Of significance, the community expert added that SpaceVerse is taking advantage of Maxar’s work it completed in geospatial analytics for US Army’s OneWorld terrain program. “This is allowing us to transition to other government users such as US Space Force. What’s exciting about that is the US government buys once and then we can repurpose that.”
Maxar is developing a new capability certain to resonate well with SpaceVerse proponents – non-earth imaging… satellites taking images of other satellites. Conceptually, this would provide operators and even training audiences with an “eyes on” from Maxar satellites. “This would help fill in the layers, in terms of the virtual, augmented and real environments to provide the underpinnings for a more realistic environment,” Shank concluded.
NVIDIA works with USD’s inventor, Pixar, and other companies to expand USD’s capabilities and framework beyond visual effects — enabling it to better support industrial metaverse applications in architecture, engineering, manufacturing, scientific computing, robotics and industrial digital twins.
Benefits of UE5
Danny Williams, Account Manager on the Simulation Team at Epic Games, reinforced the government customer’s demand for open standards: “A key piece to pretty much what all of our customers are doing with Unreal is the support for open standards. This project is a great example of that. We have used the 3D Tiles in glTF format for terrain and the USD in a really important way, in terms of bringing the data from Omniverse. That’s been a great training experience and allowed us to push the edges of our capabilities.”
The Washington, DC area-based executive recalled the introduction of Unreal Engine version 5 about a year ago. A key piece of that edition that has been brought to market to support SpaceVerse is being able to do photorealism in real time. Williams explained the idea of real time has been around for a long time in simulation. “The idea of photorealism has also been around for a long time. But these have been on two separate paths. And it worked!” With the release of UE5, Epic Games “really pushed the boundaries and we said, let’s remove that barrier and do photorealism in real time.” One of many forward-leaning UE5 features enabling real-time photorealism is Lumen, a fully dynamic global illumination and reflections system.
SpaceVerse Interoperability Example
A realtime co-simulation with Unreal Engine and Omniverse enabled with live USD synchronization to illustrate the SpaceVerse proof of concept may be viewed below: