Digital shuttle goes 3-D

A knowledge management project at NASA Ames Research Center is using 3-D visual imaging techniques based on Web services.

The computational sciences division of the Moffett Field, Calif., center is using Lattice3D software from Lattice Technology USA Inc. of Los Altos, Calif., for the Digital Shuttle Project. It combines 3-D engineering designs with metadata about changes made to the space shuttles over the past 23 years, so that the virtual orbiters reflect the way the shuttles were actually built.

The project uses Extensible Markup Language to structure information, said Paul Keller, a research engineer and Digital Shuttle program manager at NASA Ames. Lattice3D's vocabulary, however, is a subset called XVL, or Extensible Virtual-World Description Language.

Proprietary computer-aided design and manufacturing systems tend to make large files, and some compression schemes lose the details, Keller said, but XVL maintains the integrity of the geometry during compression and decompression. Users can publish images to the Digital Shuttle Project without imposing huge bandwidth demands. The software reads multiple CAD file formats.

Before Lattice3D, there was no good way to represent 3-D geometry with XML, Keller said.

The software works with so-called immersive technology such as stereo-vision goggles, but that's not on the space agency's agenda right now.

'The hard engineering is equations, functions and numbers,' Keller said, not flashy displays.

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