Microsoft's HoloLens goes galactic in $19.8M augmented reality adventure

US Space Force harnesses Azure cloudy computing for orbital training

The US Space Force's Space Systems Command (SSC) has signed a deal with Microsoft to create an "Immersive Intelligent Environment" augmented reality space simulation.

The simulation, dubbed I3E [PDF], will have users donning Microsoft HoloLens headsets to view and interact with orbital objects in a scaled environment.

While the deal is worth only $19.8 million over a single year, there is scope for an additional three years of Azure-powered mixed reality.

Microsoft is in the process of killing off Windows Mixed Reality but was keen to insist that HoloLens was alive and kicking. At least for now.

As well as Azure powering the platform, I3E will be hosted in Microsoft Azure's commercial and government clouds. It will make use of both the unclassified and classified requirements, depending on the nature of the mission.

The Windows vendor said: "The Microsoft solution will also integrate with a broader industry partner ecosystem to further enable and support virtual mission scenarios and provide a framework solution including mixed reality experiences, visualizations, analysis, and a multi-user environment."

I3E is a follow-on to the Immersive Digital Facility (IDF) prototype. SSC has already begun training personnel on the system. According to SSC, one user remarked: "Picking up a headset and being able to visually interact with the planet and satellites and understand space more in depth was mind-blowing."

Microsoft has spent years getting HoloLens into the US military and, according to Bloomberg, recently secured a new order after demonstrating that the latest implementation didn't cause the same headaches and nausea associated with earlier hardware.

While SSC is a niche use case in comparison, Microsoft described itself as "honored and excited" to be working with the organization. That $19.8 million is probably nice too.

I3E is currently only accessible in a US Space Force facility in Los Angeles. However, the plan is that the facility will be accessible to Space Force Guardians everywhere via Azure Virtual Desktop.

Space Force service members are "Guardians," much like members of the US Marine Corps are called "Marines."

SSC manages a $15 billion annual space acquisition budget for the US Department of Defense. ®

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