Tracking with NASA at the bottom of the ocean

The NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations project (NEEMO) is a NASA analog mission used to prepare and train astronauts, engineers and scientists for future space exploration. NEEMO missions take place in Aquarius, the only permanent underwater research lab in the world. We were honored to track NASA Aquanauts and equipment inside Aquarius using AllTraq during the NASA NEEMO 22 mission.

JSC Demo

Before the NEEMO 22 mission, The AllTraq team travelled to the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas to demo the system. We had the opportunity to set up AllTraq in the International Space Station (ISS) mockup in Building 9. The team was able to install, calibrate and demonstrate real time precision tracking in a short period of time.

Installing AllTraq in the ISS mockup.

Aquarius Habitat

Aquarius is the world's only undersea research station. Located 3.5 miles off the coast of Key Largo, the habitat is 62 ft below the surface next to deep coral reefs in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Aquarius is 9 ft in diameter and 43 ft long. It includes a bunk area, main lock, entry lock and wet porch. The habitat is operated by Florida International University (FIU).

NEEMO missions in Aquarius allow NASA to plan, test and develop procedures for space missions in extreme and isolated environments. Aquanauts test techniques, equipment and technology inside and outside of the habitat.

Aquarius dive team and crew members.

Photo courtesy of NASA

AllTraq Real Time Location

NEEMO 22 was a perfect opportunity to test AllTraq in an extreme environment. The mission provided a unique platform to examine the challenges and feasibility of tracking assets and crew members aboard the International Space Station (ISS) and other traditionally difficult environments for RFID systems. Ultimately, the goal is to use AllTraq to help save NASA time managing inventory so crew members can dedicate more time to mission objectives.

Challenges

The Aquarius habitat may be the most difficult place on earth for precision RFID tracking. A confined metal tube at the bottom of the ocean presents a number of challenges. Electronics and equipment regurlarly fail in the habitat due to pressure, humidity and moisture. The metal structure causes RF multipath reflections making precision RFID location tracking unreliable. The isolated location means you have to troubleshoot problems remotely. Our systematic approach to custom tracking and the built-in AllTraq features helped us overcome these challenges.

Aquarius interior

Photo courtesy of NASA

What We Did

We provided a detailed installation guide for NASA to install the system in Aquarius. AllTraq uses advanced algorithms to triangulate tagged equipment and crew while filtering out multipath reflections caused by the metal structure. AllTraq receivers and tags performed without failure due to pressure or moisture (our tags survive autoclave cycles in medical applications). Because AllTraq uses ultra wideband (UWB) frequency we did not experience any interference from other science equipment in the small space.

A network issue caused some problems for us at the beginning of the mission. This allowed us to demonstrate another AllTraq feature - remote configuration. We were able to remotely adjust the system to bypass local hardware and run everything in the cloud.

Benefits of the system

We were able to track crew members with RFID armbands and equipment with low profile asset tags. Aquanauts and mission control personnel were able to access the AllTraq software from anywhere on any internet connected device (phone, tablet or computer). The system allowed NASA to enter info for tagged items including picture, name, point of contact, serial number and item details.

AllTraq provided precision 3D tracking on a map of Aquarius with sub-foot accuracy. The system allowed crew members to see their distance from other tagged items in the system and the height of any tagged item. Historical data and reporting were also available.

Precision tracking inside Aquarius

Asset detail page in the AllTraq software

Photo Gallery

Aquarius Habitat. Photo Courtesy of NASA.
Aquarius Habitat. Photo Courtesy of FIU.
NEEMO 22 Crew. Photo Courtesy of NASA.
RFID enabled armbands.
NEEMO 22 Mission Control. Photo Courtesy of NASA.
AllTraq Director of Engineering Mark Chivers in the ISS mockup.
AllTraq receiver in the ISS mockup.

More Info

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