01 – Introduction

Welcome to Space Flight Training.  Through this course we will explore the principals of space flight primarily through Martin Schweiger’s Orbiter 2010 space simulator program.

Space Shuttle Atlantis awaiting launch

Lesson Plan

Currently subject to change

01 – Introduction

Present the course and its objectives, install Orbiter

02 – Aerodynamic flight principals & establishing orbit

Take your first flight in Orbiter, get familiar with the interface, overview of flight simulator principals, establish a basic orbit

03 – Basic orbital mechanics & maneuvering

Learning MFDs, aligning orbital planes, Kepler’s Laws, Delta-V

04 – ISS: rendezvous & docking

Applying knowledge in order to reach ISS, sync orbits and initiate a safe docking

05 – Safely reentering the atmosphere & landing

Aerobraking and how to avoid burning up

06 – Trans-lunar injection & interplanetary maneuvering

Basic mission planning, Hohmann transfer, launch windows

07 – STS-101 Space Shuttle Atlantis ISS resupply mission

Applying knowledge with real world constraints, emphasis on fuel efficiency

08 – Apollo 11, part 1: Launch to LM extraction

Manual ascent to parking orbit, planning and executing TLI, CSM and LM docking, extraction

09 – Apollo 11, part 2: Lunar orbit insertion to LM landing

Mid course corrections, orbital insertion, LM descent and landing

10 – Apollo 11, part 3: Ascent & rendezvous to CM splashdown

LM ascent and rendezvous with CSM, Earth return trajectory, CM separation, reentry and splashdown, mission success

11 – Conclusion, the future of spaceflight

Planning a Mars mission, commercial space flight, propulsion & engineering, philosophy of space exploration, open discussion

Orbiter 2010

Orbiter is a freely available space flight simulator software by Martin Schweiger.  Dr Schweiger originally released Orbiter in October of 2000, but has since gone through a few revisions and has arrived in its current form released August 2010.  The program is highly customizeble and there are a very large number of 3rd party addons available, which greatly extend the graphical experience as well as bring in many additional spacecraft such as those from the Apollo Program as well as many fictitious spacecraft.

For this initial lesson, we will be downloading and installing the Orbiter 2010 base package, though in future lessons we will be using addons as well.  You may optionally apply extra addons at any point if you wish and I will make some recommendations of some of my favorites.  At the beginning of every lesson, I will list a short review of which addons are necessary, as well as which ones were a part of previous discussions.  That way, you could potentially start from scratch every time.

Hardware requirements.

  • Windows 98/2000/XP/Vista/Win7
  • 1.2 GHz Pentium or equivalent processor
  • 512 MB system RAM
  • DirectX 7 or newer
  • DirectX compatible graphics card with 64 MB of memory
  • Approx. 120 MB free hard disk space for minimum installation.
In addition to the requirements above, I’d highly recommend a joystick, if you don’t already have one, the Logitech Attack 3 joystick is available for roughly $20 and is a good choice, you should be able to find it at Amazon, or other online retailers.  However, do not let the purchase of a joystick deter you from taking this course, you can still do most of the maneuvers just fine with only the keyboard, although it is a disadvantage compared to a joystick.

Download and Install

In order to prepare for this series, you will need to have Orbiter running on your computer.  Orbiter is of course free so go head and download it here.  (Alternate download locations available from the link above.)  There are two different ways to install Orbiter on your computer, one is through an MSI file, the other is by a ZIP file.  You will need to be comfortable navigating the file system on your computer while using orbiter in order to install and manage addons.  For the purposes of this course, use the ZIP file installation method.  The base file is 129MB so it may take a while depending on the speed of your connection.

The link circled above is the preferred method to install for this course.

Once you have downloaded the ZIP file, choose a suitable location on your hard drive to extract it. I would recommend either C:\Orbiter or My Documents\Orbiter create the directory and unzip the contents to that location.  Orbiter is now ready to use but is very basic at this point.  Back at the download website, you have have noticed additional downloads for textures.  You do not need to download any of these, however, if your computer is a bit more powerful than the basic hardware requirements laid out above and you have the extra disc space, these textures will greatly enhance the visual quality of the simulation and are therefore recommend as they will enhance the enjoyment of your time in Orbiter.


For this course, I want to try to keep everyone’s Orbiter configuration consistent.  I also want to introduce Orbiter in a way that will be more enjoyable for you in the long run, even if that means we have to do a bit more work right now to get it going.


To demonstrate the addon process for Orbiter, we’ll use the Planets & Moons texture pack.  Download it from the link above, and like before, unzip the contents into your Orbiter directory.  Windows will ask you if you would like to write over existing files, go head and say yes to all.  You have now replaced the original content for these planets and moons with higher quality textures.  All other addons will install in pretty much the same way, in addition to the Planets & Moons pack, I would also recommend the other textures available here, Earth L11-L14, Mars L11, Moon L11, and Celestial Backgrounds.

Base Enhancements

Next, lets install three packages from Dan Steph’s Orbiter page, Orbiter Sound 3.5, Universal Cars and Cargo 2.0 and UMmu 2.0  Unlike most addons, these particular ones use an installer, simply point it to your Orbiter folder and let the installer do the rest of the work.  These three addons provide a lot of extra features and functionality that are used almost universally by many other addons and thus help complete your base Orbiter installation.

Graphics Engine

The last part I’m going to recommend as part of your base Orbiter install is the D3D9Client.  It is available from the orbiter forum, though you may need a login to the forum to download it.  This is a graphical engine addon that greatly enhances the visual experience of Orbiter, it should work just fine on even moderately old video cards and computers.  Alternatively, if you have a newer (DirectX 10/11 compatible) video card and are in Windows Vista/7, then you can use the D3D11Client instead, download and installation instructions here.

Generic Mod Enabler

Unfortunately, although Orbiter works well well addons in general, if you activate too many at a time, it seems to start having trouble with it.  Luckily, there is a third part program that does a wonderful job at managing addons for programs like Orbiter, and I highly recommend it.  Its called Generic Mod Enabler.  Follow the link and install it to your Orbiter directory, its a very simple program and only has an executable file, a text file and an INI configuration file.  The first time you run JSGME.exe, it will prompt you to create a MODS directory under the main Orbiter directory, go ahead and do that.  Now, as you start collecting addons that interest you, you can give them their own directory under MODS and activate/deactive them with JSGME.exe.  In general, texture addons are ok to install in your base Orbiter directory, however, stations, bases and spacecraft behave best if you use them with JSGME.exe, and I would recommend working with them that way.

Generic Mod Enabler with a few addons enabled in Orbiter

Additional Addons

If you visit http://www.orbithangar.com you will see there are hundreds of addons available for Orbiter, many add content such as bases you can visit as well as historical and fictional spacecraft.  With Generic Mod Enabler in place, feel free to explore some addons that interest you.  Rather than before when you unzipped a mod directly into your base Orbiter directory, instead unzip the addon in the MODS directory in a folder of that addons name, for example, the image above lists all the addons available based on their folder name, like ShuttleFleetV4.7R1.

Starting up

Now that everything is in place, lets start Orbiter for the first time.  If you want to use the D3D9Client, then use orbiter_ng.exe, if you want to use the built in graphics engine, use orbiter.exe  Orbiter may run a system check to ensure  you are ready to run it, but after that, you should see the start window with the scenarios list.

Orbiter start window with the scenarios list

Notice the list of tabs on the left, we will be running through most of them one at a time, so lets move right on to Paramters.

Orbiter parameters tab

You can see a few options here, its all very simple.  There are of course options for realism, perturbations of the physics engine, controls over star magnitude and the ability to customize the MFDs in the glass cockpit view.  By default, orbiter disables Damage and failure simulation.  Although this setting is only sensitive depending on the vehicle you’re flying, I prefer to leave it on.

The visual effects tab

I like having everything turned on, a few of these options are off by default.  You also have to set the celestial background, two are provided by default, and more if you downloaded the celestial backgrounds addon (also consider the realistic backgroun addon, I recommend it).  For most of these, they look the most realistic around 0.3 or even less, adjust to taste.

The modules tab

This is a pretty significant tab, and other than the scenario tab, you’ll be visiting this one the most.  Other than managing addons through Generic Mod Enabler, you can enable and disable certain modules through the usage of this tab, and often times you may need to double check after you’ve enabled an addon through Generic Mod Enabler.  I typically leave  OribterSound, ExtMFD and ScnEditor enabled all the time.  ExtMFD gives you an extra MFD you can pull up as an external window, if you have dual monitors, you can move it to your secondary screen, ends up being very handy.  ScnEditor is the scenario editor, you can “cheat” your way through a scenario if you for instance run out of gas, or you want to create a new ship somewhere you can visit, etc.  If you plan on using the D3D9Client with orbiter_ng.exe, this is the place to enable it, and you should notice that the Video tab wont be present until you do so.

The video tab

You can configure your video options here, the D3D9Client provides advanced options as well, you don’t have to do much here other than set your resolution, and I recommend using Full Screen mode with Full Screen Window selected.

The joystick tab

A self explanatory tab, this is where you configure your joystick.  There aren’t, however, very many joystick options other than selecting your joystick and defining your throttle.  There are 3rd party add ons that extend the capability of the joystick integration, or alternatively, there are programs that can interpret joystick buttons as keyboard strokes.

I don’t have a screen shot of the Extra tab as I felt there wasn’t any need to go over it.  Take a look at it if it interests you, but for our purposes here, we’re just going to leave it alone.

Once you’ve made your settings, Orbiter will save the basic configuration so you wont need to visit all of these tabs every time.  To begin orbiter, jump back to the scenarios tab and choose a scenario that interests you.  Try one of the scenarios under The Solar System, take a look at how the graphic system is performing.  Also try one of the Space Stations scenarios and look at the view of the craft gently floating above the earth.  Any time you want to end the scenario, you can presss CTRL-Q on your keyboard to get back to the startup screen.  Orbiter also saves your scenario state on exit and you can click Save current… at the bottom of the scenarios tab to create a new scenario based on where you were just at.  You can also just start up again using the (current state) scenario at the top of the list.

A view of Titan with Saturn in the background

This concludes this lesson, feel free to continue on with lesson 02 – Aerodynamic flight principals & establishing orbit

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