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Microsoft Hololens tech helps scientists virtually teleport to the International Space Station

Space Holoport
Space Holoport (Image credit: European Space Agency)

What you need to know

  • A Microsoft HoloLens Kinect camera was used to "holoport" a group of people from Earth to the International Space Station.
  • Holoportation refers to 3-D scanning people in real-time and projecting the scanned image to a HoloLens headset.
  • The technology allowed a group of people to appear as if they teleported to the International Space Station as it traveled 17,500 mph in orbit 250 miles above the Earth's surface.

Usually, it's hard to have company when living aboard the International Space Station (ISS). But thanks to technology from Microsoft, astronauts can have visitors any time they'd like, at least virtual ones. Microsoft's technology was used to "holoport" humans to the ISS in October 2021 (via Space.com). A HoloLens Kinect camera was used to record a group in 3-D and then project their likenesses through a HoloLens headset worn by astronauts on the space station.

NASA flight surgeon Dr. Josef Schmid, industry partner AEXA Aerospace CEO Fernando De La Pena Llaca, and their respective teams were the first people to ever be holoported from Earth into space.

To make the process work, the Hololens camera and headset were used in conjunction with custom software from Aexa. ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet was able to hold a conversation with Schmid and De La Pena while the latter two appeared virtually as holograms.

Space Holoport

Source: European Space Agency (Image credit: Source: European Space Agency)

"This is completely new manner of human communication across vast distances," said Schmid. "Furthermore, it is a brand-new way of human exploration, where our human entity is able to travel off the planet. Our physical body is not there, but our human entity absolutely is there."

Schmid highlighted the fact that the setup does not require people to be stationary. In fact, a ship can travel several times the speed of sound and still receive holoportation signals.

"It doesn't matter that the space station is traveling 17,500 mph and in constant motion in orbit 250 miles above Earth, the astronaut can come back three minutes or three weeks later and with the system running, we will be there in that spot, live on the space station," Schmid explained.

This is another example of science fiction coming to life. Holograms have been used to communicate through space in various shows and films, such as Stargate, Star Wars, and Star Trek. Microsoft's implementation of having a headset project images on a screen is a bit different than what's usually shown in cinema, but it appears to be effective.

Microsoft is heavily involved with space exploration and experimentation. The company has partnered with NASA, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and several other aerospace organizations. Microsoft's work includes scanning the equipment of astronauts for damage and improving satellite imagery with AI.

Sean Endicott
News Writer and apps editor

Sean Endicott brings nearly a decade of experience covering Microsoft and Windows news to Windows Central. He joined our team in 2017 as an app reviewer and now heads up our day-to-day news coverage. If you have a news tip or an app to review, hit him up at sean.endicott@futurenet.com (opens in new tab).

9 Comments
  • My god, that is terrifying.
  • No it's not. All it means is that holographic avatar of a person is always in place at the space station when using Hololens. As opposed to appearing outside the space station which is actually not as easy as it sounds. So, for this thought exercise think of everything is stationary so signal traffic is send back and forth without issue. Whereas the space station is constantly moving so signal traffic so some signal will take longer to reach the space station. Now, to put this into perspective Earth is actually not stationary - we perceive it to be stationary due to the size of Earth. Similarly, on a plane you don't feel it's moving whilst in flight other than looking out of a window or a flight tracker on the screen infront of you. So, take into consideration the Earth's spin on it's axis, it's orbit around the sun. The orbital path of the space station. Therefore, Data assessmbling into a holographic projection in the same place consistently is an amazing feat. Also, there is the movement of our own solar system as it moves in the Milkyway. The movement of the Milkyway in the universe in relation to other galaxies. In effect, the Earth is nothing but of a spec dust in this vast cosmic scale and on that scale, a person is verrrrrrry small - not even a grain of dust. Which is pretty humbling imo as if everyone put their differences aside there are countless amazing things that could be accomplished.
  • That man's face is pixelated as hell and will feature prominently in my nightmares, which, granted, are already 90's-sci-fi-horror-themed.
  • We did joke about the picture quality in the newsroom. They have the technology to holoport people 250 miles onto a spaceship flying 17,500 mph but can't get a good photo of it. While the holograms are pixelated the most, the entire photo was lower quality than I expected. In any event, it's still cool technology. I expect it will get better over time as well.
  • I was curious if this was just the limitations of photography catching the dead space between redraws of the frames. Take a picture of your monitor to see what I mean. This would be really cool to interact with loved ones when you are separated.
  • TechFreak1, mostly true, but I do feel obligated to put on my physics hat for a moment to add to this. :-) Movement at a constant velocity can only be considered motion relative to an observer in a different reference frame. To all of us in the solar system or Milky Way, the "motion" of the solar system or galaxy has no physical meaning, except with respect to background stars. From our perspective, they are moving, not us, and for any physical calculations, it's a valid perspective that our galaxy is NOT moving (a little less true for the solar system, because our solar system is in a very slow orbit around the center of the galaxy, so that is objective movement). Now, when the Andromeda and Milky Way galaxies collide in a few billion years, that will almost certainly create some new objective movements. :-) For all objects in in freefall, absent air resistance, at the same altitude and velocity, they will feel stationary with respect to each other, even though they are accelerating toward the gravitational source. Being in orbit is just freefall at an altitude and velocity combination that exactly results in an orbit. Same altitude and velocity are critical requirements: Earth and Mars are at different altitudes (distances) from the sun, which requires different orbital velocities -- closer/lower altitude requires a faster orbit to hold a constant altitude. If another object were at the same distance from the sun as earth and travelled at a different velocity, it would not remain in orbit -- slower and it would fall into the sun, faster and it would eventually leave the solar system. In contrast, we can feel the effect of the Earth's rotation and orbit relative to the moon. Think of a Foucault Pendulum (works because of Earth's rotation) or the tides (driven by moving with the moon around a common center of gravity, which happens to be inside the earth's surface). We don't feel those strongly, because they're faint compared to the force from gravity, but it's measurable and is a force that can affect us and objects around us. The other forms of motion described above cannot (per Newton originally and refined by Einstein's theory of Relativity). This is because being on a rotating object means all points on that rotating object are accelerating toward the center of rotation, which is what creates what we think of as the centrifugal force (really just inertia to keep moving in a straight line, against the acceleration toward the center). We can detect acceleration without referencing other objects, but velocity only has meaning relative to other objects.
  • You really are a master of bloviation, Colin.
  • Guilty. Especially on my passion subjects of Physics, Economics, and Marketing Strategy. :-)
  • I admire writers like Dan Rubino who can say a lot with very few words. That's a wonderful skill or talent. I don't have it. It takes me much longer to write less than to just blast out the words.