Last year, a company called SpaceVR used Kickstarter to fund the idea of sending a virtual reality camera to the International Space Station. Now the company has a new round of funding and a change in plans. Today at the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Expo in San Jose, California, the company announced a seed round of $1.25 million. But SpaceVR is no longer trying to put a camera on the ISS — instead, the company wants to film virtual reality content from its very own satellite.
SpaceVR CEO Ryan Holmes calls it "the world’s first virtual reality camera satellite," and he plans to launch it in early 2017. "This is an extension of our original Kickstarter goal," Holmes tells The Verge, "but it allows us to do a lot more for a similar spend."
"The world’s first virtual reality camera satellite"
Originally, SpaceVR planned to send a small 12-camera rig capable of shooting 3D 360-degree video to the International Space Station. But the Kickstarter campaign, which was launched in August of 2015, had a $500,000 goal that was apparently too intimidating for backers — the campaign raised a little more than $42,000 before it was canceled by SpaceVR after about a month.
Holmes said that the company weighed the feedback from people who were interested in the project and decided to retool and relaunch the campaign in September. The new Kickstarter goal was a more modest $100,000, and the company changed the design of the camera to a 4-lens, 2D setup. This time, SpaceVR was successful.
But, in light of the new funding, the company has decided to switch gears yet again. "The majority difference here is that we have complete control over [a satellite], and it can constantly capture content," Holmes says. "We don’t have to depend on astronauts' time." Time is an extremely valuable resource for the astronauts that live and work on the ISS, and Holmes says that SpaceVR came to the realization that this would limit the company's ability to capture content.
So Holmes says the team decided to think outside the station, eventually settling on a small cube satellite design. The new version of Overview 1, as SpaceVR calls it, has two 4K sensors, each equipped with super wide field of view lenses. Each lens will film footage that overlaps with the other's, and SpaceVR will stitch that footage together (and add some production value) back here on Earth. But really, Holmes says, the new design is all about the autonomy.
"We have a radio, we have an attitude control system, we have reaction wheels and gyroscopes that maintain stability, and we have flight controller software that tells the satellite what to do and when," Holmes says. The team will be able to upload schedules to Overview 1 that can tell it where and when to record, and instead of waiting for bandwidth to become available (like would have been the case on the ISS), the footage can be quickly beamed back down to Earth.
"It’s definitely different, but I think in the long run it’s a lot better for everyone," Holmes says. "Now we have the ability to really immerse someone in space as if they were floating outside, which I believe is what most of our backers are really interested in anyway."
Once the satellite is operational, Holmes says the plan is to capture a few two-minute time-lapse clips per week that will be made available to backers and new customers. But Holmes says the endgame for SpaceVR is still to find a way to live stream that footage 24 / 7. That would be the ultimate escapist entertainment, giving us Earth-bound humans the chance to experience the overview effect by simply strapping on a headset. Or, as Holmes' co-founder Isaac DeSouza put it me last year, "it's like Netflix, except you get to go to space."