Development of the V-Care system for autonomous astronaut training






9 Apr, 2024



Development of the V-Care system for autonomous astronaut training

The MEDES-COMEX consortium has developed on behalf of ESA a new tracking system for the crew’s physical exercises: Visual Controlled Bodytracking for Advanced Resistive Exercise (V-CARE).

Optimizing real-time body movement tracking

© Robert Markowitz


The International Space Station (ISS) plays a crucial role in facilitating in-depth research into the consequences of prolonged exposure to weightlessness on human health. These studies have identified significant issues such as bone deterioration, muscle atrophy, and the decline of cardiovascular function, among other detrimental effects. The need for resistive exercise as a countermeasure to these impacts of microgravity is now well established, thanks to decades of human experience in space. Indeed, scientific publications, such as those in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, have demonstrated the benefits of resistive exercise on bone health.

Therefore, performing physical exercises is essential to maintain optimal physical condition and limit these deconditioning effects. However, when carrying out these exercises, especially when they involve high loads, the risk of injuries, such as muscle pains, cannot be overlooked. A key study published in the Spine Journal in August 2017 notably highlighted the modifications of the spine and muscle atrophy suffered by astronauts, underscoring the importance of a preventative and adaptive approach in the development of physical training programs in space.


Necessity of Innovation in the Space Context:

Currently, once or twice for a 6-month mission (often in the middle of the mission), a real-time teleconference (audio and video) is organized between the astronaut exercising on the ARED (Advanced Resistive Exercise Device) and the team of physical trainers located at a flight control center. The trainers can react in real time when inappropriate positions are observed. This procedure is not sufficient, and it is also restrictive because it requires a real-time connection and does not support the autonomy of the crew, which is an important element to consider. The implementation of a bodytracking system that displays in real time to astronauts when they are exercising at high intensity on ARED is perfectly justified and necessary from a safety perspective. To address this, the idea was to provide ESA with a markerless video capture system of movements allowing self-monitoring (by real-time video feedback) to the subject himself (the astronaut) during resistive exercise on the ISS’s ARED and also compatible with future exercise devices anticipated for upcoming exploration missions.

Presentation of the V-Care System:

To prevent injuries during countermeasure exercise sessions, the V-Care system, developed by COMEX, represents an advanced solution aimed at perfecting resistive exercises in space, particularly aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Utilizing Microsoft Azure Kinect technology, V-Care ensures 3D tracking of body movements without the need for markers. This feature not only facilitates its implementation and use but also allows real-time guidance of the astronaut through visual feedback during exercises.

Faced with technical challenges, including the impact of the participants’ clothing and environmental interferences on the quality of the capture, solutions have been developed to ensure the reliability of the data. For example, it is recommended that participants wear tight, light-colored clothing to minimize infrared signal disturbances and optimize motion capture. Moreover, the optimal positioning of participants relative to the Azure Kinect camera is crucial to maintaining the accuracy of the measurements. Its innovative architecture ensures seamless integration with equipment like the ARED, providing real-time feedback to astronauts to optimize the safety and efficiency of their training. This system represents a significant advancement in the physical preparation of space crews, offering a crucial tool for managing the risks associated with microgravity exercises, while overcoming technical challenges to maintain high quality of movement tracking.

© Robert Markowitz / Azure kinect / COMEX

Evaluation and Results:

The thorough evaluation of V-Care, focused on simulations of resistive exercises on a representation of ARED with 11 participants, employed a specific methodology to test the effectiveness and accuracy of the system under conditions mimicking the space environment. This evaluation phase included setting up several success criteria and performance measures, such as the accuracy of movement capture, the stability of the curves generated by the system, and the system’s ability to provide real-time feedback. Participants were invited to perform resistive exercises while wearing outfits optimized for motion capture, thus highlighting the importance of physical preparation and appropriate equipment. The analysis of the results revealed that 56 out of 66 tests were successful, demonstrating the effectiveness of the graphical user interface (GUI), currently based on oscillations, for precise and real-time tracking, and validating V-Care’s capability to provide accurate feedback for adapting and correcting posture and exercise execution.

Impact on Astronaut Training:

The impact of V-Care on astronaut training marks a significant evolution in physical preparation for space missions. By integrating an advanced real-time bodytracking system, V-Care enables better adaptation of resistive exercises, crucial for countering the adverse effects of microgravity on the human body. This technology not only enhances safety by reducing the risk of injuries through immediate posture corrections but also optimizes the efficiency of each training session, ensuring that astronauts maintain optimal physical condition throughout their mission.

© Azure Kinect / COMEX


The integration of V-Care into training routines on the ISS represents a significant advance in the physical preparation of space crews, offering a crucial tool for managing risks associated with exercises in microgravity. As part of the project’s continuation, a major update of the graphical user interface (GUI) is planned to include body tracking with a 3D representation of the astronaut, their avatar, currently based on oscillations. This development would allow for greater immersion and interaction, thereby facilitating more accurate and personalized feedback. Moreover, the V-Care system could be used on ESA’s “E4D” device for trials aboard the ISS in 2025, marking a step forward in space training technology.

Looking to the future, V-Care could be adapted for missions to Mars, offering a compact and efficient solution for maintaining the musculoskeletal health of astronauts during extended space missions. Studies on the effectiveness of feedback in physical training support the idea that accurate and real-time feedback can significantly improve the quality of exercises by helping to maintain correct body alignment, prevent injuries, and optimize muscle recovery, which is crucial for long space missions where access to full medical facilities is limited. V-Care’s ability to adapt to various training needs and provide detailed performance analyses could transform the way astronauts train, enhancing their health and overall performance in space.

Partner: MEDES has unique expertise in space medicine and in the evaluation/research involving human subjects as well as in the operational implementation of European life sciences experiments conducted aboard the ISS (MARES & SARCOLAB 1 & 2 experiments).


Find our article from October 2022 : V-Care project


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