Web based Launch Vehicle trajectory simulation and visualization with Cesium

This is more of an FYI for the Cesium & Space loving crowd, with a fairly unique use-case being demonstrated. It appeals to me directly because in my day job I occasionally work with the launch vehicle community, usually in the context of Range Safety.

A couple of months ago, Declan Murphy, who goes by “TheVehicleDestroyer” in a few places on the web, and “murphd37” on his github page, posted on the /r/SpaceX subreddit to announce his creation: FlightClub.io.

FlightClub is a launch & landing trajectory simulator that is entirely web-based. It uses a custom coded java back-end to integrate the thrust/drag/gravity forces involved, and a JavaScript-based client that leverages Cesium for the 3D viz, Plot.ly for the interactive performance graphs and charts, and a sprinkling of bootstrap, Angular, and JQuery to round out the mix.

It got some rave reviews by the SpaceX enthusiasts there, but I think most of them glazed over the web bits to focus on the rocketry stuff like thrust profiles, pitch maneuvers, separation events, and re-entry deceleration burns. In other words, the web app was so successful at getting out of the way of the user that almost everybody forgot it was a web app and focused on the actual “rocket science” modeling and simulation.

So, “link farm” to follow:

https://flightclub.io/ for the main event.

The interface is a bit tricky to learn if you’re not already familiar with the sequence of events that happen during a launch to orbit, so you may want to first check out his YouTube channel with recorded playbacks of the end-results for recent SpaceX missions here: https://www.youtube.com/user/TheG0Getter

I think he might record a tutorial at some point, but that too could be something a community fan could walk through and contribute. If you’ve ever played Kerbal Space Program some of the concepts will be familiar :wink:

All his code is here: https://github.com/murphd37 and split between server and client.

He recently got interviewed by the Orbital Mechanics Podcast hosts (http://www.theorbitalmechanics.com/) in Episode 55. (worth a listen if you’re into this trade-space)

In that interview he indicated that he’s working on getting 3D models for the Cesium visualization, and maybe down the line some “solver” solutions for flight trajectory optimization.

I mention all this because I think he’d appreciate folks who are excited about this kind of stuff, visualization of Space and Launch Vehicles, to join in contributions for his pet project. If nothing else, its a wicked-cool application of Cesium and other JavaScript libraries to what’s traditionally been a (very) thick desktop application.

I’d love to see this site join the Demo list, but it’s up to the folks maintaining that site to reach out to him, and up to him of course to decide if he wants the free advertisement. :wink:

So check out his project, look at his LinkedIn bio: https://ie.linkedin.com/in/declan-murphy-b9245787 where he’s described some of the inner-workings for how the server and client connect, how the whole thing is hosted, etc…

All in all, as a professional in this particular part of the aerospace industry, I applaud his efforts, particularly since this was more of an exercise in learning how to code stuff than doing it for a paycheck. I also like his singular focus on some of the SpaceX vehicles and mission profiles, 'cause if you’ve been watching the news lately, those guys are doing some really amazing stuff in recovering their launch stages. Nothing like having a web application that’s pertinent to the current news and exciting for younger aspiring rocket scientists to play around with.

So, Declan, if you’re trolling these forums, Great Job on this project !! I’ve shared your link with a few folks who work down at the Cape & PAFB and they were all quite impressed, not to mention a little amazed at what all you can do via a web application these days. 'course that doesn’t say much about the state of the rocket launch industry these days, but it certainly shows them what they could aspire to if they ever pull their heads away from their launch consoles to update their IT infrastructure… :wink:



Hi Frank,

This is very cool, thanks for sharing! We’ll reach out to Declan to see if he wants us to showcase this on the Cesium website.


indeed !

Been poking through the GitHub server side source for his engine java code and database entries. Looking around to see if it could be readily modified or extended to model some of the smaller sounding rockets like the Black Brant, Terrier-Orion, and others in this class. Compared to the launch tempo of SpaceX, there are literally hundreds or more of these sized rockets launched from ranges all over the globe every year. Sub-orbital is often “good enough” for doing some good science. You just need to get above the Kármán line for a few moments… Tons of space-related science gets done this way.

Solid rockets have different specific impulses and thrust performance, not to mention that a lot of these are spin stabilized part of the way up, (video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bDoh8zQDT38) so some adjustments to the GNC profiles might be needed as well. Even the initial launch state is dropped from vertical to form the apogee arc along a particular azimuth. There have been a few attempts to open-source the simulation for these guys over the years. OpenRocket comes to mind: http://openrocket.sourceforge.net/ and https://github.com/openrocket/openrocket as does RasAero http://www.rasaero.com/ but none have been this nicely integrated as a web-serving back-end.

There might actually be quite a few derivative uses of this project, some of which might even be commercial. I know of plenty of folks who operate payloads for these sounding rockets who would love to have not only a visualization (for playback) of their missions, but also pre-launch simulation of the trajectories as well.

Since this isn’t a strictly Cesium discussion, I’ll move the “engine” questions elsewhere, but for anyone else thinking about what kind of industries might benefit from visualizations such as this, the research that gets done with these things is quite amazing.

Here are just the NASA managed ones:



with India, Sweden, Norway, Canada, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and Germany (just to name a few) also launching (or building) their own variants so it’s kind of a global (albeit niche) industry.

To help spark any ideas, there’s a pretty good mashup of live video and animated data-driven gauges recorded here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLhaNd_H5bM) from a 2012 flight, but Declan’s project might actual teach this community a lesson or two about modern ways of presenting aerospace data… I really like the time-sync’d interactive performance plots, but when you fuse that with geo-boundaries, properly oriented 3D models, etc… you really tie it all together so even the layperson can understand what’s going on.

I could easily see a variation of the current project that adds the camera views (real and simulated by a Cesium camera view) time synchronized to the route just like what you guys did for the Powder Tracks demo (http://cesiumjs.org/demos/powdertracks.html).

Anyway, its nice to see this kind of application. Innovation in aerospace often comes from the places you’d least expect it.

Hey Frank,

Wow, thanks so much for the kind words! I'm really happy to see people using the tool and delighted that it's getting positive feedback. Extra delighted that the positive feedback is coming from people in the aerospace industry!

As you seem to have guessed, I'm not a web developer by any means, but I'm getting there. Any comments/criticisms you (or anybody else reading this) have are more than welcome. Cesium made my life a lot easier in this regard - it's an amazing tool and the online documentation is v. good.

Regarding the showcase on the Cesium website, that would be very cool, I'd be more than happy to let it be posted there if Patrick et al want it? I've not heard from them yet, but I'm sure they're pretty busy.

I mention all this because I think he'd appreciate folks who are excited about this kind of stuff, visualization of Space and Launch Vehicles, to join in contributions for his pet project.

Alas, if only it were so easy to get contributors! Some day I'm sure some will pop their heads up :slight_smile:

I've shared your link with a few folks who work down at the Cape & PAFB

Huge thanks for this. I'm planning on moving stateside this year and really want to get into the industry, so you're doing me a huge favour there without even knowing it.

Thanks again,