Boeing DigitalSpace Raytheon
SimStation (NASA Ames)
NASA Ames Research Center NASA Ames Research Center
GeoFusion Pandromeda
K. Foley B. Damer T. Cochrane G. Briggs
M. Sim
M. Shirley C. Stein
P. Hansen
K. Musgrave et al

Title: “SimPlanet” Projects to create whole-planet and whole-moon models from orbital-imaged terrain and texture data

The partners submitting this white paper have been using Geographical Information Systems (GIS) modeling and testing with 3D visualization to generate a set of tools we are calling “SimPlanet”. GIS has undergone a revolution in the past few years with an ordinary laptop now able to process and present very large real-time rendered datasets of planetary and lunar surfaces. In one project for NASA Ames, DigitalSpace and its partners created a fractally modeled Mars whole-planet terrain with textures based on MOC and MOLA datasets. In a subsequent project for Boeing, DigitalSpace and another partner produced a 3D Moon globe with Clementine, Apollo and other datasets to enable the visualization of Lunar surface locales during a Boeing workshop on design options for return to the moon.

We believe that whole-planet/moon visualization tools are essential components of any new mission of exploration. Such visualization works in lock step with robot imaging missions to determine optimum locations for human short and long duration missions. As the resolution of orbiting imaging increases so does the completeness of “virtual globe” modeling. With the coming of more pinpoint accurate landing by robotic and human exploration, site selection will reach a “high resolution” capability matched by the resolution of the virtual models. Therefore, for the exploration of the Moon, Mars and beyond, planners and crews of the CEV and other vehicles will utilize virtual globe visualizations as an essential roadmap to the solar system.

Background and Relevance to New Exploration Mission

In the Spring of 2002 M. Sims and G. Briggs from NASA’s Ames Research Center engaged DigitalSpace in discussions surrounding the possibilities for whole-planet modeling of terrain with textures. DigitalSpace then partnered with Pandromeda [1, 2] and used their “Mojoworld” fractal planet modeling tool to create a complete GIS visualization that would represent the entire planet Mars employing the 1km MOLA and detailed MOC datasets that were publicly available at that time. A custom converter, four months of modeling and 1500 hours of rendering were required to produce a simulated landing at the Gusev Crater locale. The continuous rendering from orbit to surface is depicted in figures 1 and 2 below.Prior to the April 2004 Boeing workshop, held in response to the President’s announced vision for Moon-Mars exploration, DigitalSpace requested GeoFusion, Inc. to create an up-to-date Lunar GIS globe that could be rotated in real time and permit key Lunar sites to be visualized [3]. GeoFusion created this globe from Clementine and other data and overlaid detailed imagery and traverse information from Apollo (see figures 3 and 4 below).In both cases, the visualization of Mars and the Lunar surface using off-the-shelf tools which require only modest computing resources, proved that there is great deal of potential for both real mission planning, and public outreach through deploying GIS visualizations of planetary and lunar bodies.

NASA can reap rewards from years of imaging by re-using this data to serve multiple needs within the President’s stated exploration vision. Combining these GIS global views with surface simulations of vehicles and human activities can also provide the basis of a multi-player simulation on the Internet similar to currently successful large scale learning games which could provide valuable outreach to engage the public in the Moon-Mars vision.

Proposed Follow-on Program of Research and Development

It is suggested that the newly developed NASA Ames WorldWind platform [4], which is available under open source license, might also provide the model for GIS systems for NASA missions. Companies like Pandromeda and GeoFusion might continue to work together with DigitalSpace, NASA, Adobe and others to develop standards for this class of software which is likely to become mission critical for the new exploration initiatives.

[1] Pandromeda’s tool MojoWorld can be downloaded at:
[2] DigitalSpace project pages and publications including MojoMars and GeoFusion Moon are available on the Web at: and
[3] GeoFusion’s GIS tools and content can be seen online at:
[4] NASA Ames’ WorldWind open source virtual globe software at:

Supporting Images: Fractal terrain model of Mars and GeoFusion Moon (2002-2004)

Figure 1: “MojoMars” fractally generated simulated Mars from MOLA and MOC datasets utilizing Pandromeda environment. Figure 2: Rendering of the approach to Gusev Crater in the fractal Mars model (exaggerated terrain)
Figure 3: Rendering of the Moon from the Clementine and other datasets using the GeoFusion platform. Figure 4: Detail on the GeoFusion moon showing the traverses made by Apollo XII astronauts in 1969.