Pentagon Wants To Develop Space Command Center Straight Out Of Sci-Fi

3D holographic displays could start replacing computer screens in four years

Jun 22, 2016 at 11:41 AM ET

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is in the business of turning science fiction into reality, but the plan for one of their latest projects seems like it could be a still from the next Star Trek movie.

The space domain surrounding the Earth has gotten crowded since Sputnik launched in 1957. When the United States first developed the Space Surveillance Network for tracking and detecting all manmade objects orbiting earth, there were far fewer satellites. These days, there are thousands of satellites, making it increasingly difficult for the U.S. military to plan operations in space.

But with the Hallmark Software Testbed (Hallmark-ST) project, announced last Friday, DARPA plans to make it easier for the U.S. government to use spacecrafts for battle, surveillance, or whatever else the Department of Defense (DoD) wants to do in outer space. Hallmark software would fuse data from various space operations, allowing defense personnel to track everything orbiting Earth and run simulations and scenario-based exercises.

The DoD plans to spend about $22 million to build Hallmark-ST. Interested contractors have two months to submit proposals for technology development that would be split into three phases over nearly four years.

In a statement that reads like the the battle command center setting from practically every sci-fi space military scene, Brad Tousley, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, described their vision for the software: “[A]n intuitive user interface incorporating 3D visualization technology would present complex information in novel ways and provide commanders with unprecedented awareness and comprehension. An advanced testbed featuring playback and simulation capabilities would significantly facilitate research and development activities, experiments, and exercises to evaluate new technologies for their impact on space command and control capabilities.”

The Hallmark software will likely end up in the DoD’s Joint Space Operations Center and Joint Interagency Combined Space Operations Center. Currently, these systems rely on computers—not futuristic-looking 3D holographic projections that allow military personnel to run space simulations.

Eventually, the software would be the heart of the Hallmark Space Evaluation and Analysis Capability—a space technology testbed that the DoD plans to build in Northern Virginia—but space departments could start using the new software by the end of the four-year development period. At that point, our space command centers might finally start looking like the ones Hollywood promised us decades ago.