Astronauts rely on consistent communications during underwater mission simulation and training

Dec. 16, 2016
ALAMEDA, Calif. FreeSpeak II wireless and Eclipse HX digital matrix systems from Clear-Com in Alameda, California, enable a team of astronauts to coordinate communications between the Control Room simulations; the Dive Boss' station; the medical team, which constantly monitors the astronauts' and assistant divers' vitals; and the technical coordinators, while maintaining clear and open lines of communications. This way, the task of learning how to work in weightless conditions can be run in a smooth, efficient, and safe manner. 
Imagine you are all suited up in your cool, high-tech space suit. HAL 9000 (of Arthur C. Clarke's treasured Space Odyssey series) has opened the Pod bay door. You stand on the step, taking in the unbelievable view and... You step off into the abyss to do your spacewalk to fix an antenna on the other side of the Space Station.

In the weightlessness of space, you turn your wrench to tighten the bolt on the antenna. But, if you haven't practiced your task while weightless, just as you move your body to turn the bolt… It's quite possible you might also turn the whole Space Station! Didn't know your own strength, did you?

Avoiding just such a situation is among the reasons why astronauts undergo mission simulation & training at the pool.

A major space agency uses a six-million gallon pool bigger than a football field to train astronauts from around the world, simulating the weightless conditions of working in low earth orbit. The astronaut trainees put on their space suits and, through an umbilical of tubes and cables to the poolside tender positions, get their air, medical telemetry and communication needs.

They all connect via standard 4-wire connections (line-level inputs and outputs to a matrix port in the main control server room). There are controllers at poolside and controllers simulating Mission Control Center-like consoles that guide the trainees and the scuba diver assistants through the paces of their exercises. A beautiful techno-ballet in the slow motion world of the underwater, weightlessness of simulation training.

Using Clear-Com's FreeSpeak II wireless and Eclipse HX digital matrix systems, the team of astronauts is able to coordinate communications between the Control Room simulations; the Dive Boss' station; the medical team, which constantly monitors the astronauts' and assistant divers' vitals; and the technical coordinators, while maintaining clear and open lines of communications. This way, the task of learning how to work in weightless conditions can be run in a smooth, efficient, and safe manner.

Wireless workflow
Wireless communication can be very persnickety, as we all know. In this decade, we are seeing the loss of wide swaths of the narrow UHF spectrum. As these bands are sold off to the highest bidder, we are all left looking for new places to use our small signals for mics, comms and IFB (interruptible fold back for talent and in-ear monitors).

Clear-Com’s FreeSpeak II plays a big part in the workflow here. First off, the 1.9 GHz model keeps the comms well out of the way of other frequency traffic, both in the remaining UHF and the now very crowded 2.4 GHz spectrum. With that said, with the deployment of Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum (FHSS) technology and recent Clear-Com innovations, the use of 2.4 GHz wireless systems are becoming more attractive. The FreeSpeak II 2.4 GHz has been chosen for some of these training facilities because of the redundancy transmission of the FHSS scheme, which helps with the immensity of the room and reflective nature of the architecture and the huge water surface reflectiveness.

The FreeSpeak II solution uses a deployment of an array of Transceiver Antennas that can service up to 5 beltpacks per transceiver. These are then spread out around the needed coverage area and the beltpacks hand-off from one antenna to another as the users move about the covered areas. Their seamless hand-off is clean and has a killer clear sound. The high quality spectrum of audio makes the FreeSpeak the best sounding multi-channel communication system around. And when using the matrix integration card option, as the large training pool area has, it makes it possible for any intercom panel in the facility to directly talk with any and every beltpack user, and vice versa.

When programming the FreeSpeak II through the Eclipse HX's EHX software, it's just a simple drag and drop function.'re all set to get to work. When using this integrated method, the beltpacks can do just about anything that the wired matrix user panels can do. If there's a telephone interface in the matrix, the FreeSpeak II beltpacks can be programmed to make a telephone call (including speed dial to the actual destination phone number) or trigger relays or GPI's with the touch of a button.

The award-winning audio clarity of FreeSpeak II wireless system makes for crisp and clear communications, in an environment where it's most vital, like simulated training courses for astronauts going into space. These expert technicians need a system that can adapt to their unique workflow and one that they can trust will work in any environment. Perhaps, one day......even in space.

FreeSpeak II is the next-generation, distributed, wireless solution that operates in multiple worldwide license-free frequency bands: 1.897-1.933GHz and 2.4GHz. This high-performance wireless intercom system is designed for extensive communication in large-scale operations. Its ability to maintain a strong and continuous wireless connection across an expansive coverage area while providing crystal-clear digital audio makes FreeSpeak II the wireless roaming solution for military and government applications.

The Eclipse HX (Eclipse HyPerformX) systems, including the EHX Configuration Software (EHX), are advanced digital matrix intercoms. Building on the powerful Eclipse platform, the new Eclipse HX range offers high performance for implementing changes to the system rapidly and easily. Leveraging the established core hardware design, Eclipse HX enables a seamless transition for installed Eclipse systems, officials say.

Clear-Com, an HME company, is a global provider of professional real-time communications solutions and services since 1968. Clear-Com has delivered significant improvements to the way people collaborate in professional settings where real-time communication matters. For the markets it serves -- broadcast, live performance, live events, sports, military, aerospace, and government – Clear-Com communication products have consistently met the demands for high quality audio, reliability, scalability and low latency, while addressing communication requirements of varying size and complexity.

Rom Rosenblum has always been a capable, yet rebellious audio-guy. Originally in the music recording business as an engineer, with a long Emmy Award winning career in live TV broadcasting, Rom worships at the altar of All Things Audio. As one of the Applications Engineers at Clear-Com, he works as a catch-all fixer for folks who need tech support, commissioning, systems design, product development, and sales support.

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