A recent conversation with a co-worker got me thinking about space exploration sims. I found a few good ones. All of the programs mentioned below are freeware. If only there was a way to combine them all…
Orbiter is a space flight simulator. If you want to actually learn to fly an Apollo rocket or the space shuttle, this is the one for you. It is obviously quite technical (JPL’s Basics of Space Flight is recommended reading) but there are some good tutorials out there to get you going. It has quite an active mod community so new missions and craft are always available.
Celestia is a planetarium type sim that lets you fly around the galaxy, and has by far the best graphics of the programs I’ve found. Celestia has a mod community also, with add-ons for both real and fictional objects. When you get bored of orbiting Mars and watching the sunrise over Venus, after a few downloads you can visit the Star Trek universe, Star Wars universe, and so on.
Noctis IV is an incredibly detailed space exploration sim, and the closest to what I wanted when I started searching. It has a (fictional) universe of thousands of stars that you can fly to, and you can land on every planet of every star. You can take photographs of the planet’s surfaces as you explore, and maybe even discover life. There is also a huge community aspect – every player shares the same database, and if you fly to a system that hasn’t been named yet you can name it and record items of interest.
Sadly, the problem with Noctis is that the graphics are absolutely awful. Even with the Noctis IV CE mod it only runs at 320 x 200 resolution. I want to love this game, I really do, because the feature set is just outstanding – but I’m having a real hard time getting past the graphics. Noctis V is supposedly in development, but since the developer is apparently writing his own language for the game, I’m not holding my breath. The FAQ is being updated though, so there is still hope.
If anyone out there has found more space exploration sims, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.