Category Archives: Simulators

SpaceMissions – a 3D Solar System & Space Missions Simulator

Adrian Wenz at Binary Space informs me that SpaceMissions™ is now available in the Microsoft Store. SpaceMissions™ is

a 3D Solar System & Space Missions Simulator supporting most Earth-centric spacecraft as well as some selected interplanetary missions (like MSL, Rosetta, OSIRIS-REx and more): Travel through our Solar System, visit planets, comets, asteroids and watch critical maneuvers of interstellar probes at any time from any desired perspective.

Adrian tells me that the program will be further improved in a “step by step by adding more space missions (e.g. Insight), features and by removing any detected bugs”.

Here is a clip showing some of the features of the program (which was referred to as SpaceTraveller during its development):


Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto

Videos: Big rockets look even bigger when put in “everyday places”

Here are two new videos that can give one a much better sense of just how big the big rockets that are launching, and in some cases landing, today really are:

Bonus: Enjoy more of The Everyday Astronaut‘s soundtrack to the video at top:



Run a realistic Apollo 8 guidance computer emulation

December 21st of this year will mark the 50th anniversary of the launch of the Apollo 8 mission to the Moon. Astronauts Frank BormanJames Lovell, and William Anders became the first humans to leave Earth and orbit another celestial body. The mission was extremely risky. The Saturn V rocket had only launched twice before and never with a crew and on the previous launch there were engine shutdowns on the second stage (longer firing of the remaining engines saved the mission). Although there was no lunar lander on Apollo 8 , many key technologies and operations needed for a successful lunar landing mission were demonstrated for the first time such as translunar injection, command module navigation, communications, and midcourse corrections.

And all these tasks were performed with computer technology that was far less powerful than what runs a $10 wristwatch today. To get an appreciation for the state of the art in advanced compact computers in 1968, check out the free Apollo 8 Launch Emulator for Android created by astronomer Rick Boozer.

Emulation of Apollo 8 spacecraft’s guidance computer.

The program allows you to

operate a realistic replica of the Apollo 8 spacecraft’s guidance computer”.  

This app is not a traditional game (no winning or losing involved). It is also not an entire mission simulation. So, if you are looking for either of those, then don’t download this app. 

Instead, it is a commemoration of the launch of humankind’s first trip to another world by way of an emulation of a realistic Apollo Guidance Computer (or AGC) and DiSplay KeYboard interface (called DSKY).

You can re-enact the launch of the powerful Saturn V rocket that sent the Apollo 8 spacecraft with its crew on the way to the Moon on December 21, 1968. The animation you will see will not be of a flying rocket, but the mission critical true-to-life data displayed as it would have been shown in real-time to the astronauts as they ascended from the launch pad to Earth parking orbit. 

To add to the enjoyment of the experience, the app supplies optional English explanations of the data shown. Not only that, you will be continually informed of major events that occur at each mission critical point between launch and Earth orbit at the appropriate time.

As a bonus, you will be able to type in a small subset of the actual commands that the astronauts entered into the AGC via the DSKY and see relevant results. 

The program is available for free at the Google Play Store.

If, as in my case,  you don’t have an Android device, you can run the app on a PC or Mac computer by downloading the free NOX virtual Android device creator at


Video: Mars Society’s MarsVR virtual reality platform to assist human exploration of Martian landing sites

The Mars Society is holding the MarsVR  Kickstarter campaign to fund development of “a virtual reality platform for serious research to support the human exploration of Mars” –

The MarsVR program will be a unique multi-phase effort designed to pioneer the emerging field of CrowdExploration, which we define as the partnership between the first astronauts on Mars and VR experts and enthusiasts back on Earth. The Mars Society aims to develop a special VR platform to assist with the initial human exploration of Martian landing sites.

Phase 1 of the MarsVR program will focus on designing training simulations for the Mars Society’s Mars Desert Research Station in Utah, providing direct assistance in preparing MDRS crew members for their analog research and testing. Since every moment at MDRS is valuable, just like actual astronauts working in space, the Mars Society wants its crew members to make the most of their time “on Mars.” We will also open-source the key elements of the platform so that the general public can freely make use of it to experience human Mars exploration.

As part of the new MarsVR initiative, the Mars Society plans to build a high-resolution simulation of the entire MDRS habitat, both inside and out. To complete the experience, Mars Society staff will scan a one-square mile capture of the Mars-like terrain around MDRS using the latest photogrammetry techniques. Funds raised beyond the $25,000 project goal will be used to expand the VR platform beyond the initial one-square mile capture to allow for a broader Mars experience for both crew and members of the public.

Find more details about the project at MarsVR.


A year on Mars on Mauna Loa

German physicist and engineer Christiane Heinicke describes her one year stay with five other people in the HI-SEAS (Hawai’i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation) habitat by the Mauna Loa volcano on Hawaii (see previous posts here about HI-SEAS): My Year on “Mars” – Scientific American

Cut off from civilization, we were dependent on ourselves and on each other. We had to perform any work that needed doing and fix anything that broke. All we had was the material contained in the storage unit dubbed the “sea can.” The nearest supermarket was months away. We received news “from Earth” electronically – with a 20-minute delay. That is about how long it takes for signals to travel the maximum distance of 240 million miles between the two planets.

To be honest, it took weeks for me to realize just what I had gotten into. 

She describes various difficulties and challenges that arose during the analog Mars mission but none were so terrible that they would discourage her from going to the Red Planet if she had the opportunity:

Studies such as HI-SEAS are designed to increase the chances that the first Mars crew will survive, and to create a setting in which its members can concentrate on seeking out signs of life rather than squandering their energies in conflicts and petty competition.

If it were possible for me to fly to Mars today, I wouldn’t hesitate – provided that I got along well with the crew and knew that I would get back in one piece. My year-long experience gave me a good understanding of the negative aspects of life away from Earth, and I know that I have what it takes. While my time on our Hawaiian Mars did not transform me into a completely new person, I have become much calmer in the face of enormous psychological stress. It now takes a lot to make me lose my equilibrium. For the privilege of delving into the secrets of an alien planet I would gladly forgo fresh raspberries for a few years.