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Virtual space tourism? Company to launch first VR satellite.

Imagine slipping on a pair of virtual reality goggles and then looking down at the Earth, then turning your head to scan outer space. SpaceVR has just taken a key step toward making that a reality.

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    An artist's illustration of SpaceVR's Overview 1 satellite, which is slated to launch in 2017.
    Courtesy of SpaceVR
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Is space the final frontier for virtual reality?

SpaceVR will send the first virtual reality satellite into orbit in 2017 to prepare for virtual space tourism. The box-shaped Overview 1, which includes a camera rig designed to capture 360-degree video, is slated to launch from the International Space Station (ISS) under partnership with aeronautics supplier NanoRacks.

“My dream, when I first had this idea at a hackathon 1.5 years ago, was to launch a VR satellite with NanoRacks,” said Ryan Holmes, CEO and founder of SpaceVR, in a statement. “It seemed crazy and borderline unachievable. Now we are signed, paid, and moving towards something exponentially more borderline unachievable.”

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In 2015, the company tried to raise funds with Kickstarter to send a 12-camera rig to the ISS, to capture 360-degree, 3D footage. But the startup fell short of its $500,000 goal and cancelled the project after about a month.

A more conservative second campaign brought in $100,000, with which SpaceVR planned to launch a 4-camera rig that would only shoot 2D footage. But in April, a $1.25 million investment revived the company’s dreams of total space immersion.

The new satellite will feature 4,000 image sensors for high-resolution 3D video. SpaceVR will combine footage from each camera in the rig to produce a 360-degree sphere, viewable on smartphones and VR headsets like the Oculus Rift.

Overview 1 will launch with the help of NanoRacks’s CubeSat Deployer. NanoRacks is a private company that provides commercial hardware and services to the ISS. The supplier began working with SpaceVR in 2015 and has since partnered with Blue Origin, the private aeronautics company founded by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.

“SpaceVR promises to open a new era in connecting consumers worldwide to the beauty of outer space, and we are ready to be part of that effort,” said Jeffrey Manber, chief executive officer of NanoRacks, in a statement.

In past decades, VR was most commonly associated with video games, but recent years have seen a slew of new applications for the fledgling technology. Last year, the New York Times developed a smartphone app that paired news articles with 360-degree panoramic video.

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