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The European Space Agency (ESA) made the decision to refurbish their Paris HQ building with a strong vision to create a “home” for ESA Council and Delegations and a venue for high level interactions between ESA and its national and international partners; industry, invited guests and the media.

As well as being the political heart of ESA it would need to serve as a shop window. Featuring an exciting new 125m2 Visitor Centre on the ground floor that will serve as a focal point to promote and enhance the uptake of ESA’s space activities by the general public and facilitate exchanges of knowledge between the Agency and its main stakeholders and workforce.

The Visitor Centre was denominated as The Astrolabe, reflecting the initial development of humankind’s utilisation of space and astronomy to improve life on Earth. The Astrolabe’s objectives were clear; to Inform, Engage, Inspire, and Innovate.

With the plan for The Astrolabe now in place, ESA found a partner in Ouno Creative.

We subsequently spent 3 months preparing a thorough and detailed Design Report that would provide the blueprint for The Astrolabe. Our report identified the best current ESA digital assets that could be adapted and utilised, new digital assets that could be created, what hardware and software would be needed, what attractions could be featured, the design of the space and how The Astrolabe could tell the complete ESA story to visitors of all kinds, from Stakeholders to school children to Government Officials.

Once the Astrolabe blueprint was agreed upon, a 9 month schedule was prepared and the work could really begin to design and build The Astrolabe.

We knew from the start that the stakes were high and that The Astrolabe would need to be technically advanced and 100% reflect both the stated goals of the Agency and its desire to propel humankind’s vision of space exploration for many decades into the future.

Our initial report had made great headway into resolving a lot of the technical issues we might confront and assessing the existing digital assets that could be best utilised. We now needed a way to showcase these on screens whilst allowing them to be updated, changed, or moved to any screen. To do so, we built a bespoke, dynamic CMS system that we could remotely access and that The Astrolabe Manager could access immediately in order to change screen content, customising it to an individual visitor if so required.

The CMS would have a front end menu system and allow us to display existing websites as well as implement our own HTML based custom built apps. There were many security hurdles and networking challenges to overcome but the end result gives ESA the flexible future-proof solution that was so important to them.

The initial plans catered for various different visitors and it was important to be able to tell the ESA story at a student level as well as at an International Delegation level and general public. We deployed a number of different attractions to do so. From large format touchscreens, to digital kiosks, to a ‘Discover ESA’ dual touchtable, the Phi Globe, Holograms, VR headsets and a large curved video wall, projector and a digital whiteboard. The technology was all chosen to allow and cater for the many and varied different Astrolabe interactions.

A total of 14 screens and touchscreens were implemented, and we designed and built an array of new apps to be shown on these screens, as well as giving access to existing apps and HTML content. The full ESA story could now be told from within The Astrolabe.

Ouno Creative chose, purchased and exported all the hardware and cabling to Paris and followed on shortly afterwards to begin the technical install. A two week initial installation period saw most of the work completed and the testing well underway. Working closely with the ESA IT team, remote access was established soon after and now all content, scheduling and design changes can be managed from the UK by our team or locally by ESA.

We also worked with ESA on the branding of The Astrolabe and the graphics, prepared all video content and even 3D printed the VR Spacemen paying very close attention to the real Spacesuits.

This has been a fantastic project to be involved in and has tested our full and diverse range of capabilities. There has been design, technical, architectural, network and international business related challenges to overcome and we are very proud to have worked through these simultaneously to deliver an exciting, interactive visitor centre that we hope will be enjoyed by many in the years to come.

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