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Space Simulators
Like being there...

Eagle Lander 3D
Screen shot from the Mars Colony Simulator from Hyperkat.

A space simulator can be as simple as a spacecraft simulation program running on your PC or as elaborate as a detailed, full scale hardware simulation of a shuttle cockpit.

Or perhaps it's a large scale group simulation carried out over the internet in which the participants play different roles, e.g. mission controllers or astronauts, in carrying out a mission scenario such as launching a satellite from the shuttle.

This section provides links and descriptions of all sorts of web resources related to both software and hardware space simulations.



Simulator News from Space-for-All
See the archive for older articles...

Simulation News Sources

Space Simulation Projects
A selection of collaborative simulation projects intended primarily for educational and entertainment purposes. Several simulators involve both software and hardware aspects to them.

USV Audrey
Flight Deck of the Audrey full-scale space flight simulator.
Courtesy Jason Reskin


Columbia Aeronautics and Space Association (CASA)
Hickman High School in Columbia, Missouri has been carrying out space mission simulations since 1988. These include underwater scuba activites to simulate EVAs. Organized under the Columbia Aeronautics and Space Association (CASA) the program is described as follows:

CASA, Columbia Aeronautics and Space Association, is a truly unique program housed on the campus of Hickman High School, Columbia, Missouri, USA. The largest student run space simulation in the nation, it uses an aerospace theme to provide a multidisciplinary learning experience which incorporates not only aerospace concepts, but also a knowledge of English, mathematics and science. The program utilizes themes in context curriculum which allows students to experience aerospace principles first hand, and develop life skills such as teamwork, responsibility, and leadership.

continue

More info:

The Traveling Space Museum "We Bring The Adventure Of Space To You!"
This program brings " full-scale and fully functional simulators into schools and using them as teaching tools." The simulators include:

  • Odyssey Space Lab - "a 12 foot-long, full-scale replica of a space laboratory module that would be found as a part of the International Space Station."
  • Orion Shuttle - "12 foot-long motion-controlled flight simulator that resembles the Space Shuttle and gives students the sensation of piloting a spacecraft in low Earth orbit. "
  • Mission Control - "has a complete set of teleconferencing and Internet links that correspond with workstations aboard the Odyssey SpaceLab. Mission Control is also equipped to teleconference with cadets piloting the Orion flight simulator at a third school."

Traveling Space Museum Brings the Adventure to Earth - Space.com - May.11.05

Red Rover, Red Rover
The Planetary Society sponsors this ambitious educational project that allows students to simulate the experience of controlling robotic rovers on Mars.

The students build small robots (from LEGO DACTA parts) with video cameras and a simulated Marscape for it to explore. Software is provided so that the students can control the robot and recieve the video from the robot.

The robots can also be controlled over the internet so students can control the rovers at other student sites on the web.

Equipment/software packages are available.

Dean Shuttle Simulators
Most of the following information was sent to me by Mr. Dean:

James Dean worked at the Johnson Space Center from 1990 to 2001 first in the astronaut support office for five years and then the lead for the ISSP Outreach and Education group. One of the things he did on the side was to develop a high fidelity, hands-on Space Shuttle launch and on-orbit simulation program.

The full environment includes;

  • Full size Shuttle flight deck
  • All NASA Shuttle training manuals
  • All Flight Data File manuals KSC launch procedure (all volumes)
  • JSC crew training CDs
  • Use of Mac MECO STK Precision Approach Launch videos
  • On-orbit full rev "out the window" Earth view videos.

He has built functional flight decks for various museums and schools around the country. For example, he provided a Shuttle simulation program for the National Space Science & Technology Institute in Colorado Springs Colorado. He also completed a launch simulation course at his local middle school.

He offers a package of materials that a school can use for Shuttle training and operations course. All they need is a PC, a Mac, a TV, a video cassete player and a stereo.

All the NASA material was acquired through work at NASA and is all in the public domain.

He does not take payment for his services but builds the simulators in his spare time. He gives them to organizations that cannot afford the museum quality versions that companies like Space1.com produce and doesn't want don't want to compete with them.

He offers plans for construction of the shell, framework, and interior panels. The power system, caution and warning system, lighting system, and AC power distribution system are patterned from Shuttle schematics.

All this is available to anyone that would like to undertake a project like this.

Here is an article on one of Dean's projects:

More Simulation Projects

Amusment Park Space Simulation Rides
+ Space Theme Parks

 


Space Simulation Software

The following section lists various space related simulation programs. These can be in game or exploration formats. The simulators include commercial programs and others are freeware or shareware.

A number of the following simulators are no longer sold commercially by the original companies. This has become quite common as technology moves on. However, many of these old programs are still quite playable and remain in demand.

So a number of abandonware sites have arisen on the net that provide free downloads of copies of such orphaned programs. The legality of such services, though, is highly in dispute but some sites make an effort to state the legal status of a each program (e.g. Underdogs ).


Check also these sections for online and offline space related programs:

Apollo

Mercury Rocket Sims
Binary Star LTD
This company, founded by 2 former flight dynamics officers at NASA, offers several space simulation programs. Unfortunately, the programs are intended for museums and arcades settings and so are extremely expensive.
Celestia: A 3D Space Simulator
"Celestia is real-time 3D space simulation which lets you travel through our solar system and to over 100,000 stars in our neighborhood."

It was developed as an open source collaborative project led by Chris Laurel - SourceForge.net: Project Info - Celestia.

It runs on Windows, Mac & Linux. The architecture allows for on going expansion and add-ons

See, for example, the spectacular planetary surfaces in the Celestia Gallery. More about Celestia in the Celestia Forum at shatters.net

Claim Stake - The Official Site :: Do You Feel Adventurous?
Become a Beltminer. Built around the concept of asteroid mining, this simulator employs 3-D graphics to display vehicles traveling and landing on asteroids"

"...3D dexterity game about asteroid mining in deep space. You are a Beltminer. You have been issued a Prospector mining craft in order to land on asteroids and stake a cliam on valuable minerals. These minerals will be used for the good of the space station Terra. Your ultimate goal is to find water...and construct an Ice-water extractor on an asteroid.

At the end of each mission, you will will have to spend a percentage of you credits on repairing the Prospector, buying Mineral Beacons, and re-fueling your craft. Once you collect enough resources...you will be able to build an Ice Water Extractor."

EXOFLIGHT
An elaborate modular simulator that will allow for multiple vehicle and mission simulations.

The program will include:

  • 3 vehicle models: Space Shuttle, Saturn V/CSM/LM stack (with escape tower!), Gemini/Titan stack.
  • 3D graphics of vehicles, planets, moons, etc.
  • Realistic Orbital Mechanics
  • Modular Spacecraft - can develop ones own custom vehicles.
Kerbal Space Program
This is a
multi-genre game where the players create their own space program. In KSP, you must build a space-worthy craft, capable of flying its crew out into space, without killing them. At your disposal is a collection of parts, which must be assembled to create a functional ship. Each part has its own function and will affect the way a ship flies (or doesn't). So strap yourself in, and get ready to try some Rocket Science!
Some features include:
  • The Vehicle Assembly Building and the Space Plane Hangar allows players to build spacecraft out of any imaginable combination of parts.
  • Fully-fledged, Physics-based Flight Simulation ensures everything will fly (and crash) as it should.
  • Take your Kerbal crew out of the ship and do Extra Vehicular Activities
  • Fly out to Moons and other Planets
  • Procedural Terrain delivers detailed terrain at a vast scale. The Kerbal Planet is 600km in radius!
  • Mod-enabled, allows players to create new content and modify the game.
  • Ship systems. Keep an eye out for engine temperatures and fuel levels, and try not to explode.
  • Build ships with multiple stages, and jettison parts away as they burn out.
  • Full control over the staging sequence allows for complex ships and advanced functionality.

The program can be purchased in the KSP Store and Kerbal SpacePort sells add-ons.

Several videos about the software can be found in the Kerbal Space Program YouTube Channel. For example,

..

Liftoff: Space Simulation Series
According to the product description:

" LIFTOFF is the first in a series of space simulations. There is almost no limit to what you can do with this long awaited - very cool - software!

Take a virtual tour of the space shuttle, take it apart and reassemble it, manipulate it and experiment with weightlessness. You'll even find detailed virtual reality animations.

Discover the history of Space Exploration including the history of rocketry and the space race, a much-needed glossary of acronyms and a timeline extending from the 17th century.

Plus you'll find teacher material and resources included! And, last but not least and our favorite...astronaut training! Feel the power as you launch into space and take command of the Space Shuttle from launch through orbit, solve problems, deal with emergencies, talk to Mission Control and roam in weightlessness through the Shuttle cockpit and crew area."

 

Lunar Landers / Lunar Explorers
Lunar landers were among the first of computer games and are still popular. Controlling the thrust and orientation of the vehicle for a smooth landing can be quite a challenge. Landing simulators are available at varying levels of realism.

Mars Simulations

MacMission Control
High-fidelity
space shuttle simulation software for the Apple 68k Macintosh and Power Pc machines.

MacMECO
Detailed simulation of shuttle main engine and solid rocket booster performance gives realistic shuttle launch and ascent simulations. Detailed cockpit display and function provided.

MacSPOC (SPOC = Spacecraft Personal Orbit Computations)
Orbit computation engine and teacher that can also be used for simulated space missions.

Documentation and demo software available for downloading.

Microsoft Simulators

  • Microsoft Space Simulator
    This program is not longer available from MS. In fact, it was apparently the last DOS game published by MS. You might find it at a garage sale or used software exchanges.

    There are often discussions on the news groups about it.See also the FAQ at GameFaqs for help on the program.

  • MS Flight Simulator 95, 98, etc. d
    Doesn't come with any spacecraft simulations but some third party sources provide space related add-ons.

OpenUniverse: A Free Space Simulator
Raúl Alonso's program to simulate "the Solar System's bodies in 3D on your Windows or Linux PC " and "it does so in realtime."

Still available but Alonso has shifted his efforts to working on Celestia (see above.)

Orbiter - A free space flight simulator
This simulator is quite sophisticated and realistic and has very high quality 3-D imagaery:

"ORBITER is a realistic space simulation using proper physics for the modelling of planetary motion, gravitational fields, free space and atmospheric flight etc. As such, it is more challenging to master than an arcade game - you should at least have some basic idea about mechanics and planetary motion to get the most from it."


An example animation created by Orbiter.
See more videos of Orbiter in action.

Current features include:

  • "Realistic physics. Planetary motion, gravitation effects, free space and atmospheric flight are accurately modelled.
  • You can land your ship at a space port on a planet surface, or dock to an orbital station.
  • High resolution planetary maps provide some nice visual effects.
  • Configurable environment. Users can add planets, space ships and space stations to the existing universe, or design a completely new solar system from scratch."

Other resources:

 

Space Shuttle Simulations
Space Sail Simulators
Solar and laser driven space sails may provide a practical method of transport around our solar system and even outside of it. There are a number of simulators available and under development:

Space Station Simulators
These programs deal large space habitats. The stations could be generic or specifically the International Space Station. Some are games dealing with the construction and operation of space stations.

Others employ sophisticated 3D modelling to allow the user to move through the inside and/or outside of a station. Some also allow one to see the orbit and orientation of the station.

Space Academy GX-1
Edmark program for young people (ages 8-12) is an interactive teaching program about space and astronomy but includes some flight simulations. See Review at SuperKids.

Space Pinball
Download this space simulator developed by as an outreach project:

"Space Pinball is an educational package /software game (in development), that is [...]downloadable from internet. It should offer users, aged between 12 and 21, knowledge on gravity and orbital mechanics. Each level of difficulty includes a 3D game in which the presented knowledge can be practised. You can actually take control of a satellite in space!"

Version 1.0 now available. V2.0 in beta.

SpaceEngine
This program is described as follows:
is a free space simulation software that lets you explore the universe in three dimensions, starting from planet Earth to the most distant galaxies. Areas of the known universe are represented using actual astronomical data, while regions uncharted by human astronomy are generated procedurally. Millions of galaxies, trillions of stars, countless planets!

Resources:

 

GrandTour: Voyager and Giotto Space Mission Simulator
"simulate space as seen from the Voyager and Giotto spacecraft. In addition, ... generate scenes from arbitrary points in space or the Earth, with the spacecraft visible to the observer. The planet, moons, and rings of interest (or comet, nucleus, and tail), stars, the sun, and the spacecraft are all accurately drawn with wireframe representations..."

"developed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory by John D. Callahan to assist in the analysis of science and optical navigation data..program was filmed by the BBC as part of a NOVA documentary on the Voyager Uranus encounter,..."

Earth Impacts
  • Earth impact effects simulator - on line program gives the damage on earth for a hit by asteroid or comet of a chosen size, density, etc.

  • John Lewis's Asteroid Impact Modelling The 1999 book: Comet and Asteroid Impact Hazards on a Populated Earth : Computer Modeling by John S. Lewis comes with a program on a diskette that allows you to bombard the earth with objects of various sizes and types to estimate the resulting death and destruction. Read the Space.com review.

Space Games
Some space adventure games of note:

  • Homeworld at MigMan's
    • Real Time Strategy game set in space, with full 3D combat modelled. Originally published by Sierra and released in 1999.
  • FrontierAstro - astronomy and Frontier Elite 2/Frontier First Encounters - space adventure game now in its third generation and a fourth due out soon.
    • Frontier Astro - "dedicated to astronomy and Frontier Elite 2/Frontier First Encounters"

  • Oolite - "Oolite is a space sim game, inspired by Elite, powered by Objective-C and OpenGL, and designed as a small game that is easy for users to pick up, modify and expand upon. Almost every aspect of the game can be changed by using simple, free graphics packages and text editors."

  • X Rebirth - egosoft

  • Classic space games:
    • Elite (video game) - Wikipedia - "a seminal space trading computer game, originally published by Acornsoft in 1984 for the BBC Micro and Acorn Electron computers. [...] Elite's open-ended game model, advanced game engine and revolutionary 3D graphics ensured that it was ported to virtually every contemporary home computer system, and earned it a place as a classic and a genre maker in gaming history."

    • Wing Commander (video game) - Wikipedia - "Released by Origin Systems in 1990, the game was a marked departure from the standard formula, bringing space combat to a level approaching the Star Wars films. Set in the year 2654 and characterized by Chris Roberts as 'World War II in space,' it featured a multi-national cast of pilots from the 'Terran Confederation' flying missions against the predatory, aggressive Kilrathi, a feline warrior race. Most impressively, cockpit performance affected gameplay: going above and beyond the call of duty resulted in medals, promotions in rank were awarded at regular intervals, and success or failure on certain critical missions would even decide the player's plot progress, 'winning' or 'losing'."

Flight Simulators with Space Options
These programs are intended primarily to simulate airplanes but some include suborbital vehicles (X-15 and SS1) and/or have a shuttle landing sim:

 

More Simulators, Space Games & Related Resources

MMO, VR and Immersion Space Simulations

Instead of controlling a spacecraft or running a game, these simulations try to immerse you in a 3D environment and let you move around and interact within it. The environment might be a space station, a lunar colony or the surface of Mars.

Some of the Space Station Simulations listed above use 3D modeling. See also the Multimedia - Interactive section for more space programs including VR both online & off.

Massively multiplayer on line (MMO) games with near future space scenarios are in development, some sponsored by space agencies.


ActiveWorld's Mars Sites
ActiveWorld is an online virtual reality universe that has grown to involve hundreds of thousands of users with over 1000 unique worlds.
Included in this VR universe is a whole Mars world with spaceports and colonies.

"Originally designed in 1997 as a demo project for NASA, the virtual world Mars has been open for colonization by Active Worlds' residents since 1998; and is one of the more popular hang outs for adventurous humans and extra-terrestrials alike." - Mars tour homepage.

The independent site Elysium Mars [Last update: No Date] gives overview of the Mars world, including a map, description of the spaceports, and recommended sites.

Second Life
This on line virtual world includes Spaceport Alpha, which has sites like the International Spaceflight Museum shown below

Space City One
Developed by Jerome L. Wright aims to create a

"...virtual 3-D environment of a realistic space city, allowing visitors to experience life in an orbital city. As parts of the city are completed and tested, they will be added to the virtual city. Likewise, data bases available to visitors will be added as they are compiled. The pace of development will be determined by the level of success in raising the necessary development capital. Space City is being developed by a group of astronautical engineers with many years of industry experience. They are determined to make Space City One as accurate and detailed as practical to provide a high-fidelity environment for visitors..."

Lunar Explorer
A "fully immersive, interactive, Virtual Reality simulation of the Moon. It is a vivid and stunningly realistic visual experience of being on the Moon"

Colony ET
This program from HyperKat Games, which offers the Virtual Rover Simulator (VIROS), began alpha tests in the summer of 2008 of its Colony ET simulation. It is described as follows:

Colony - ET puts you on an alien planet in full survival mode. The game / simulation is a mini online 3D first person style role playing game where you are a character in a persistent world. The current state of the simulator allows one person to set up a server and invite their friends to join in the colony. We can have as many as 32 players but most people would be comfortable with 4 to 8 close friends.

mindark
The minark company creates 3-D virtual environments that includes the Entropia Universe on line virtual world. These include space related features. The company has also carried out a study for ESA that investigated the use of such virtual world/game systems as space simulations for education. See articles and video below:

 

 

Moon Tycoon Simulator
Experience virtual lunar reality at this new 3D Sim/Strategy Game for the PC/CDROM. Download demo.

"... Players can build and manage their own 3-D lunar colony, controlling all aspects of colony life - from building colonies and creating industries, to trading with Earth and alien races."...

"..includes a game tutorial, an open-ended "sandbox" mode and 3 exciting campaigns with 30 challenging missions. The game features more than 60 3-D buildings including Spaceports, Lunar Golf, Military Bases, Nuclear Power Reactors and much more - there's something for everyone! Players can manage 4 customizable industries (mining, manufacturing, research and tourism) to create their own unique playing experience. 16 devastating disasters keep players on their toes, including Asteroids, Moonquakes, Meteor Showers, and much more!"...

 

The MOON Project - Benjamin J. Britton
Unfortunately, this site disappeared from the net. The ambitious project used VRML to provide a simulated experience of lunar exploration:

"The MOON Project is a full-screen, immersive mutual reality Internet DVD made on the event of the 30th Anniversary of Humankind's First Manned Moon Landing. The purpose of the MOON project is to bring viewers into personal contact with humanity’s cultural tradition through participation in the exploration of the Moon. As an historical source document and as an artistic interpretation of cultural context, the MOON project is made to connect viewers in our collective global culture." - MOON project homepage.

 

Vision Videogames
This company

"Vision Videogames's initial efforts have landed it a Space Act Agreement contract with none other than The National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) in a cooperative effort to develop its first PS2 based video game. This game will create in millions of young people a sense of ownership in the worldwide effort to explore space and improve life on Earth...." - About Vision Videogames

A description of the ISS simulation is at SpaceStationSIM. In the fall of 2004 they announced that they would like volunteers to beta test the program: SpaceStationSIM Game Tester Application.

The company is also helping Raytheon develop simulations for the CEV program: Vision Videogames Assists Raytheon in NASA Initiative to Develop Virtual Moon Vehicle - Vision Videogames -Jan.18.05

 

DigitalSpace Commons
This company develops sophisticated 3D modelling and simulation tools and applications. Many of their projects are space related.

Star Peace
Multi-user, continuous online game and virtual world, somewhat similar to ActiveWorld. Relies on an exotic "portal" transportation system, but otherwise is a near-future mileu.

MMO Space Games
Massively multiplayer on line (MMO) games with near future space scenarios are under development.

More resources

 

Photo To Space
The Art of C. Sergent Lindsey
New Space Watch
Nasa Toys and Gifts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
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