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NEWS | March 1, 2021

From the Ocean Floor to the Dark Side of the Moon: NAVSEA and NASA Test Next-Generation Technology

By Naval Sea Systems Command Office of Corporate Communications

HOUSTON, Texas – The Navy teamed up with NASA astronauts and engineers in Houston last week to test an evolving technology that allows divers to improve underwater task efficiency for potential use in NASA’s planned return to the moon.

Divers from the Naval Sea Systems Command’s Supervisor of Salvage and Diving (SUPSALV) joined the NASA team at the Sonny Carter Training Facility, NASA’s 6.2 million gallon Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL), and executed multiple dives Feb. 24-26, to test the Navy’ second-generation Diver Augmented Vision Display (DAVD) system.

“This was our last check before we introduce the Generation 2 DAVD system to the Fleet,” said Paul McMurtrie, SUPSALV’s Diving Systems Program Manager who oversees the DAVD program. 

The first-generation DAVD system delivered by the SUPSALV office in collaboration with Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division, Office of Naval Research, and Coda Octopus Group, Inc. in 2020, enabled divers to receive step-by-step instructions via its high-resolution heads-up display (HUD) when completing complicated tasks. Additionally, the DAVD used active sonar to provide divers with basic navigation data when operating in low visibility environments. This next-generation DAVD brings in enhanced heading accuracy, the ability to receive sonar input from other sources outside of the helmet, and improvements to the navigation system that includes the ability to set way points and share bearing, range, and enhanced camera imagery directly with the HUD.

“The Sonny Carter facility is world-class and offers us the ability to test our system in a controlled environment where we can use NASA’s in-water mock-ups, whether it’s a simulated lunar surface or the International Space Station, to validate that we’re ready to deliver this capability to the Fleet,” said McMurtrie. “This is a mutually-beneficial and collaborative effort – the Navy gets to use this phenomenal facility, and NASA is able to train their astronauts using the DAVD system.”

“DAVD has been a game-changer for Navy Divers,” said SUPSALV’s Commander, Capt. Jay Young. “With the high-rez sonar display, our divers can navigate around obstacles in low and no visibility conditions which means they can safely execute their mission and maximize productivity when we’re on the bottom.”

McMurtrie said this system has shown significant growth from one generation to the next.

“It provides nearly limitless capabilities that can transcend diving. The inherent adaptably is what may take this technology from the ocean floor to, potentially, the dark side of the moon,” he said.

NASA uses the DAVD system at NBL to support in-water astronaut training and now is considering including this technology in future Extravehicular Activity suits.

As NASA prepares to return to the lunar surface and establish sustainable and continuous operations, new technologies are key to enabling NASA’s astronauts to explore and perform scientific research on the Moon. There are many parallels between working in space and working on the bottom of the ocean floor and NASA is taking advantage of the Navy’s experience in development of the DAVD hardware to understand how astronauts might use this type of technology in space.

ONR funded the research and development of the new system.

“Our divers came to us with their issue – specifically that they usually work in murky water and rely on their sense of touch to navigate around the bottom of the water column which is neither safe nor efficient,” said ONR’s program lead Sandra Chapman. “With an investment of about $1.2 million over five years, we started developing a system that can fit inside the diver’s existing helmet. It’s amazingly rewarding to know that DAVD is helping to keep our divers safe and to think that it could end up in space is amazing.”

NSWC Panama City Division initially developed the DAVD system in concert with Navy and Industry partners.

“It has been an amazing opportunity to be an engineer on the DAVD team from conception until now,” said Allie Williams, DAVD project manager from NSWC Panama City. It is rewarding to see the impact it has on our divers and the transforming capabilities we are able to give them to get the job done. We’ve come a long way from the 3D-printed and hot-glued desktop concepts we started with a few years ago, and to see it now being delivered to the fleet, and potentially used in space, is incredible. The facilities and team at the NBL have provided one of a kind feedback and evaluation opportunities we wouldn’t have been able to get anywhere else. I’m very thankful to be part of such a great team and project!”

Through an ONR, SUPSALV and OPNAV N97 Technology Transition Agreement and Future Navy Capability designator, the program will work to develop second- and third-generation capabilities in Fiscal Years (FY) 2020-2023.