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U-Fly-It Satellite and Space Elevator Simulator - Neato!

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U-Fly-It Satellite and Space Elevator Simulator
click here to run it now.

Screenshot of release from Earth Space Elevator from rotating cable's point of view.

Screenshot of low flyby while retrofiring.

Click here for more screenshots. (or on either screenshot above)

17 Nov 2012

Follow the link(s) above to the "U-Fly_It" satellite and space elevator simulator. This is the second version. It's still a prototype, but much improved. It's Javascript and I know it's safe because I made it myself.  No cookies, no "phoning home".  Just good clean wholesome physics and graphics.

See the help page for how it worked on different browsers.  The best bet is to get the latest Firefox.  Then, free up system resources by 1) restarting Firefox to free up and reset it's memory usage, 2) running the link with no other tabs, and 3) closing as many other processes as you can.  It will also help to have a fast machine with a lot of memory and a good video card.


In 1989, I saw an exhibit at the Exploratorium in San Francisco.  It was a little CRT computer display running a program consisting of a blue circle (Earth) in the middle of the screen and a dot moving around the circle (a satellite).  (Find it here.)  There were two buttons to control it.  One button added a burst of speed in the direction the dot was moving (sped it up).  The other button added a burst of speed in the opposite direction (slowed it down).  I was enthralled!

I was (and am) an aeronautical engineer.  I had had classes where we learned how to calculate orbits and transfers and all that.  I knew the stuff, right?   I did.  But, I hadn't lived it.  After five minutes playing with that thing, I felt it in me!   And, while I was flying the dot around, I had a weird sensation that I was actually flying in it in space.  I'm not kidding.  What a thrill!

This is my third re-creation of that exhibit.  The first re-creation was in Borland C++ in 1994.  Very crude, but satisfying for me at least -- I got the feeling back.  Last year I re-did it in Python and added an Earth space elevator you could release from.  It was pretty, but the interpreted graphics slowed it down and my method for controlling the program was to modify the script and run it again!  The code was also very spaghettified too by the time I tacked on all the new features that I made up as I went along.

People liked that Python version, but I could only run it on my own machine which was set up special with the libraries I needed.  I didn't want to post it somewhere with long crazy instructions how to get it running.  Even if I got the libraries all bundled into a single downloadable file, asking someone to get Python running on their Windows machine is just too much.  Most people just don't have their machines set up for it to run with a single click.  Java (vs. Javascript) was another possibility, but many people don't have Java installed on their browser (I think).  "Applets" are so rare that it's just not necessary to maintain your plugin in working order.

But, everyone has a browser, and most every browser has a working Javascript interpreter.  With Javascript, I don't have to figure out two new hardware/software environments to make an "App" for smart phones.  Every smartphone too has a browser and every one of them has Javascript.  I just have to figure out how to make the different user-interface work (touch screen, accelerometer, small screen), which is a much smaller problem.

Like the Python version, this Javascript version has graphics speed issues.  Try it with a fast machine with a lot of memory and a good graphics card.  I added a bunch of new (really good!) features.  It can run anywhere too!  You can run it right here, right now.  Just click the link, then start poking the keys and buttons.  It's great!  I love it!


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