Air Force, NASA look to get real in their space simulator training

Air Force, NASA look to get real in their space simulator training

By Dennis Blank

Special to GCN

ORLANDO, Fla.'The military and NASA are scrambling desperately to keep up with essential training for space exploration and satellite communications, speakers said this month at the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference.

'There has been a shortfall in space simulator trainers,' said Col. Perry N. Karraker, chief of space training at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. 'We have not kept up. Space training is an untapped resource. Who wouldn't want to be on the next Starship Enterprise and get paid for it?'

Karraker, one of a panel of government speakers, said even the conference's exhibitors had shown little technology that simulates space warfare or missile launching conditions.

'For the longest time, the space community has lived behind the black door,' Karraker said. 'But now we are integrating air and space more than ever before.'

The Air Force has budgeted $35 million for new, offline virtual reality training for an infrared missile warning system, he said. In the past, students who trained in a simulator could not make an error and still complete their training mission.

Take a look

'With an offline trainer, the student can make mistakes and then see what happens,' Karraker said. 'It is much more efficient.'

Training paid off, he said, in setting up satellite communications during bombing runs into Kosovo last fall. Special communications software in the cockpits of B-52 and B-1 aircraft worked much like a secure Internet for back-and-forth communications without detection by enemy forces, he said.

The ground commanders could send changes for a bombing mission, give new target coordinates and even transmit a picture of the target. The crews spent the long flights practicing realistically against simulated enemy air targets and guns.

Simulators until now have had dual 21-inch monitors to display various data and coordinates, Karraker said. A third monitor is being added, he said, so that students can see the changes being made to a satellite configuration.

The accelerated training will save money, he said, because 'you bring somebody up to speed quicker. If he is more reliable, it prevents him from making mistakes.'

David Rose, head of the Spaceflight Training Division at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Texas, said similar changes are in the works for astronaut training. 'We're looking to develop on-board facilities,' he said. 'We want to upgrade flight software products with more generic simulations.'

Just wait

A year from now, Rose said, it will take 20 space flights to build a space station. The simulated training could be done just before it is needed rather than several months in advance, he said. The Russian language is also being integrated into the training system.

The Air Force announced during the conference that it will change to so-called distributed mission training with high-fidelity simulators for the F-15C, AWACS and F-16C aircraft.

The training will 'challenge and stress the pilot,' program manager Richard G. Honeywell said.

The simulator training time will increase from an hour and a half to 15 hours a month.

The simulators will portray what Honeywell called a real-time, synthetic battlefield and will integrate various geographic areas, eliminating the need for using aircraft on training runs.

'The use of mission aircraft to accomplish training raises safety and cost concerns, and ties up operational aircraft,' Honeywell said. 'It decreases aircraft service life and fails to provide a realistic wartime environment for effective mission rehearsal.'

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