Space city news

New flight simulator and training facility to land at Houston Spaceport

The new center will replace the current Houston Learning Center that opened in 1976. Image courtesy of FlightSafety

A New York-based aviation company has announced plans for a Houston training center at Ellington Airport and the Houston Spaceport. Construction is scheduled to begin in the spring.

FlightSafety International, which has training facilities around the world and provides over 1.4 million hours of aviation training each year, announced the new state-of-the-art Learning Center in Houston on October 21, but the company has long been connected to Houston. It hosts its annual Wings Over Houston Airshow from the airport currently.

"FlightSafety is proud to have been a member of the Houston business community since 1966. This new facility will replace the current Houston Learning Center, which opened in 1976," says David Davenport, president and CEO of the company, in a news release. "We appreciate the support received from the City of Houston for this new facility as we worked to develop and finalize a long-term ground lease agreement for a six acre area within Phase 1 of the Spaceport."

The Learning Center will have a dozen full flight simulators for various types of aircraft that can be used for training for everyone from pilots and flight attendants to aircraft maintenance technicians. According to the release, there will be a dedicated area for Pratt & Whitney Canada engines.

Along with the training center, FlightSafety announced an agreement it's entered into with an unidentified large commercial aircraft operator that will use a large portion of the facility.

"This agreement further demonstrates FlightSafety's ability to provide turnkey training services to commercial aircraft operators in facilities that meet their exact needs," added David Davenport.

A Houston space medicine research organization has partnered with a video game maker that has created surgery simulation technology. Photo via levelex.com

A Houston-based organization affiliated with NASA has teamed up with a video game company to advance virtual simulation in space medicine.

The Translational Research Institute for Space Health, known as TRISH, in partnership with NASA in a consortium led by Baylor College of Medicine, California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge has advanced a new approach for space medicine using video game technology by collaborating with video game company, Level Ex.

"We discovered Level Ex through a process of landscaping the many virtual simulation companies that were out there," says Andrew Peterman Director of Information System at TRISH. "We especially noted those that were on the cutting edge of the technology."

Based in Houston, TRISH aims to collaborate with the best and the brightest to revolutionize space health, providing grants to companies with innovative concepts. With Level Ex, they found a new approach to decode earthly medical technologies in space.

Level Ex, a Chicago-based company created in 2015 was founded to provide training games for doctors to use to practice surgeries and procedures. The games are interactive, with the virtual patient reacting to the actions of the player. The training simulations consist of in-depth and physics-driven medical simulations that are verified by doctors in their advisory board.

"We're hoping to completely change the ways that doctors stay up to speed," says Level Ex founder-and-CEO Sam Glassnberg.

With their ongoing collaboration with TRISH, they have a challenge that's out of this world. In space, astronauts have limited space for medical tools and run on a limited crew. This makes providing basic medical training to all astronauts especially important.

Especially since the body begins to react to the new environmental conditions of space missions. The effects can be small or lead to new changes or challenges for astronauts who take on long-range missions. Astronauts may see their bodies slowly start to lose bone and muscle mass. Their fluid begins to shift toward their head, leading to increased risks of hypertension and thrombosis.

All of these are challenges NASA is working to address with the help of gaming technology from Level Ex that innovates the technology with higher-level capability and training. Combining video game technology and medical simulation applications to incorporate and explore the interplay of environmental conditions found in space.

"What we really liked about Level Ex is that they have an amazing team both on the clinical and technical side, says Peterman. "They are a group of former big-name game developers who along with clinical experts have married technology and medicine with their platform producing full in engine physics-driven real simulations rather than video playback."

The astronauts will train using simulations that allow them to practice a procedure in zero gravity conditions and even simulate the gravity conditions of Mars. The game will also allow astronauts to get their own on-screen avatar with their medical information thus allowing fellow astronauts to gain more practice and experience with fewer variables in space.

The advanced medical simulation platform has potential for commercial uses on earth, improving the range of the technology to simulate new, rare, and complex scenarios across a range of medical specialties, allowing doctors to practice a range of difficult scenarios without putting patient lives at risk.

Peterman says that the partnership is expected to continue into the future for immediate applications along with other innovations in astronaut healthcare, including autonomous frameworks to provide medical knowledge in outer space.