A couple of years ago we told you about a future project from startup SpaceVR that would send virtual reality cameras into orbit in order bring back immersive space video to VR users on Earth.
On Friday, I held that future in my very hands, and it felt like most space bound objects — surprisingly clunky, but packed with all the mystery and promise of the universe.
During a meeting in Los Angeles, SpaceVR's CEO, Ryan Holmes, allowed me hold his space baby, a large thermos-sized device that houses eight cameras (four cameras on each end). Those cameras will capture two to three hours of 360-degree footage per month over the course of nine months. After nine months, the device will fall back to Earth and burn up during re-entry.
The SpaceVR satellite will only live on Earth a little while longer, then it will spend its last day beaming VR footage from orbit.
The footage will be recovered while the device is in orbit via X and S band microwave radio transmissions. To get the device into low Earth orbit, the company will ride one of SpaceX's launches in August.
But getting to hitch a ride with SpaceX takes a good deal of cash, more than the company's initial Kickstarter could possibly raise (that campaign ultimately raised just over $100,000). To that end, last year, SpaceVR raised $1.25 million, the majority of its funding, from China's Shanda Group. Additional funding just came from HTC Vive's recently announced VR for Impact fund, which is dedicated to investing in VR projects that are designed to have a positive impact on society.
"I read a book called The Overview Effect, it's about this thing that happens to astronauts. When they go into space, they have this really deep, emotional feeling, it's almost like they're awakening to the universe," says Holmes, explaining the inspiration for the project.
"My goal is to catalyze that [astronaut experience] by sending this VR camera into space so people can really see what it's like."
"I saw what happened to the astronauts after that experience. I saw them as being much better people, much more connected to other people [as a result of] seeing our place in the universe. I realized that once that happens to everyone, we'll fundamentally live in a different world as a species, because we'll all think differently. My goal is to catalyze that [astronaut experience] by sending this VR camera into space so people can really see what it's like."
Currently, some of the best space-oriented VR content is coming from the likes of studios like LA-based Magnopus, the studio that created a stunningly realistic VR simulation of the International Space Station. But SpaceVR's project aims to move beyond coded reality and into the realm of plunging VR users into the real void of outer space.
In addition to a SpaceVR's CTO, Blaze Sanders, a former NASA engineer, the company also has an impressive list of space professionals to rely on for guidance.
When the footage is recovered, the plan is to release the footage by the end of the year in formats available on VR headsets including the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift. After that, Holmes hopes to begin working on his next space challenge: creating robots that will handle the dangerous work that humans still have to perform in space.