Microsoft HoloLens 2 helping Lockheed engineers build NASA's Orion spacecraft

Lockheed Martin is using mixed reality headsets to assist workers during the production of the Orion spacecraft.

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This illustration depicts the Orion spacecraft; an integral part of NASA's Artemis program.

Image: NASA

Companies are embracing augmented reality and mixed reality for a host of applications across industries. On Tuesday, Microsoft announced it would expand global availability of Hololens 2, its mixed reality headset. As part of the announcement, the company also provided a use case detailing how Lockheed Martin is using the headsets to help assemble Orion spacecraft; an integral part of NASA's Artemis Program. In the years ahead, Orion capsules are set to launch astronauts to the moon with an eye toward crewed missions to the Red Planet.

"We are super inspired to see what people are doing in the wild with HoloLens, and we are very excited that we have enough supply worldwide to bring it to this next set of regions," said Microsoft Technical Fellow Alex Kipman in a press release.

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To date, Lockheed Martin has used HoloLens headsets on a number of processes during Orion spacecraft production. Starting in late 2017, employees first began using HoloLens headsets during manufacturing. In one such application, HoloLens headsets provide guidance via audio as well as holographic overlays on capsule seating components.

"They didn't have to refer back to a computer screen or paper drawings during that entire activity," said Shelley Peterson, Lockheed Martin principal investigator for augmented and mixed reality, in a press release. "Out on the shop floor they can put on the HoloLens 2 device, power it up, and it has all the content that they need to figure out how to do that task overlaid right there on the structure."

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This photo features Shelley Peterson, Lockheed Martin principal investigator for augmented and mixed reality.

Image: Rachel Woolf Photography

As one would imagine, craft designed to operate in the vacuum of space require advanced engineering and meticulous attention to detail during manufacturing. The HoloLens headsets enable precise guidance during this intricate production process. Orion production also requires a number of repetitive tasks such as those requiring workers to manually measure spacecraft components by hand.

So far, Lockheed Martin has seen a high success rate with the mixed reality production approach. Per the report, the use of holographic instructions has enabled employees to complete these repetitive undertakings 90% faster. The HoloLens 2 approach has "all but eliminated assembly mistakes" and the company has had "experienced zero errors or rework requests on tasks" completed using HoloLens assistance, according to Peterson.

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"The fact that we haven't had any errors across all of these activities is phenomenal," said Peterson said in the release.

"Usually when we're considering new technologies we're asking if there's improved quality, if it's faster or if it's less expensive, and most people say you can only get two out of the three because there are always tradeoffs. What we're finding with the HoloLens 2 is that we can hit all three, which is pretty unique," Peterson said in the release.

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