A virtual reality headset will be sent to space for the first time ever to treat astronauts for mental health conditions.

XRHealth, a healthcare platform specialising in spatial computing, said the technology would be deployed for the next International Space Station mission, targeted for launch on 7 November.

XRHealth partnered with Nord-Space Aps and HTC VIVE to configure the VIVE Focus 3 headset to be compatible with the microgravity conditions of space.

Mental health challenge

While on a space mission, astronauts live in isolation and in non-stimulating and highly stressful environments that could potentially lead to mental health conditions.

To address this, Nord-Space Aps created a virtual assistance mental balance initiative aimed to address astronauts’ specific needs to maintain mental health while in orbit.

Danish astronaut Andreas Mogensen will be the first astronaut in space to use the VR headset for preventative care during his six to eight month mission with NASA Crew-7.

“Astronauts are essentially isolated during their missions for months and years at a time and are confined to small spaces with limited contact with friends and family,” says Per Lundahl Thomsen, chief technology officer at Nord-Space Aps.

“Creating a virtual platform that addresses their mental health needs while in isolation is imperative for them to maintain a healthy lifestyle when they return.

“We partnered with companies that provide the most advanced technologies that could be adapted for space to provide the most beneficial experience for our astronauts.”

The VR therapy will take place on the HTC VIVE Focus 3 headset with the simulator mode that was especially developed and adapted to work with the microgravity environment.

VR headsets

In the past, using a VR headset in a microgravity environment posed multiple challenges around tracking and orientation since the jittering, rolling, and drifting of the content caused motion sickness and left astronauts unable to read the content in the headset.

In a microgravity environment, there are no gravity vectors to align orientation, which creates a drift to the point that the VR headset can become unusable.

Previous projects with other VR headsets resulted in tracking being lost after just a few minutes of use. Nord-Space Aps, HTC, and XRHealth worked to engineer a VR platform that would operate in space by using a simulator mode and a specialized tracking methodology via the controllers.

“What an incredible honor that NASA, ESA, XRHealth, and Nord-Space Aps are using HTC VIVE technology to tackle some of humanity’s most complex challenges in space exploration: isolation and mental health,” said Cher Wang, chairwoman and co-founder of HTC.

“It’s a testament to our culture of innovation that VIVE Focus 3 was selected out of multiple VR headsets to accompany NASA Crew-7 on their months-long mission to the ISS. Our team tackled unique challenges to configure the headset for use in microgravity conditions, and ultimately pushed the boundaries of what’s possible in VR. Astronauts will be able to get the same mental health benefits of immersive tech as we do on earth. It’s a groundbreaking moment.”

“XRHealth is harnessing spatial computing technologies to improve health for people around the world and now even in space,” says Eran Orr, chief executive officer at XRHealth. “We are excited and proud to deploy the first headset on a space mission to relieve the pressure and stress so astronauts will be able to keep top performance while doing crucial space missions.”
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