NASA’s 3D augmented-reality app for exploring robotic space travel

July 13, 2012

Spacecraft 3D, a NASA-created app that brings some of the agency’s robotic spacecraft to life in 3D, is now available for free on the iPhone and iPad.

The app uses animation to show how spacecraft can maneuver and manipulate their outside components. It features two NASA missions: the Curiosity rover (will touch down on Mars on Aug. 5 at 10:31 p.m. PDT ) and the twin GRAIL spacecraft, Ebb and Flow, currently orbiting the moon.

Spacecraft 3D is an augmented-reality app, using the iPhone or iPad camera to overlay information on the device’s main screen. The app instructs users to print an augmented-reality target on a standard sheet of paper. When the device’s camera is pointed at the target, the spacecraft chosen by the user materializes on screen.

“Let’s say you want to get an idea what our Curiosity Mars rover is all about,” said Kevin Hussey, manager of visualization technology at JPL.

“Like Hollywood directors sizing up their next shot, you move your camera-equipped iPad or iPhone in and out, up and down, and the spacecraft perspective moves with you. It is a great way to study the 3-D nature of NASA spacecraft.”

You can also take your own augmented-reality picture of the rover or GRAIL spacecraft, or make a self-portrait with a spacecraft, putting yourself or someone else in the picture.

Coming soon: the Cassini spacecraft, which is orbiting Saturn; the Dawn spacecraft, which is deep in the heart of the asteroid belt; and the Voyagers, which are right now at the very edge of our solar system,” said Hussey. “Looking down the road, we’ve got a veritable solar system full of spacecraft to work with.”

Spacecraft 3D should be available on other formats in the near future.

The detailed computer models of the spacecraft used in Spacecraft 3D originally were originally generated for NASA’s “Eyes on the Solar System” Web application. “Eyes on the Solar System” is a 3-D environment full of NASA mission data that allows anyone to explore the cosmos from their computer.