NASA image of Juno spacecraft

NASA’s new mobile app is (virtually) putting spacecraft in your space

Contributed by
Mar 22, 2018

If you follow NASA on every conceivable social media app to see alien landscapes and horizons through the lens of its spacecraft, the space agency has an app for you.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is now making it possible to almost literally put a rover in your living room, bedroom, or anywhere else you can get Wi-Fi access with the Spacecraft AR app. The JPL-Google collab joins forces between NASA spacecraft and Google ARCore technology that uses native mobile augmented reality, which works with the capabilities your smartphone already has to interact with 3D objects and environments.

Spacecraft AR is the next phase of NASA’s previous app, Spacecraft 3D. It uses the same tech Spacecraft 3D used to put a virtual spacecraft wherever you are, but while Spacecraft 3D needs a printed image (called a target or marker) to make the experience possible, Spacecraft AR has leveled that up by ditching the need for a target and requiring just a flat surface to bring Curiosity, Juno, Cassini (RIP), Voyager, and NASA’s massive 70-meter Deep Space Network Dish to life.

NASA/Google Spacecraft AR augmented reality app

Credit: NASA/Google

"The Spacecraft AR app is an exciting new way to get up close and personal with NASA's robotic missions," Kevin Hussey, manager of JPL's visualization team, said. Hussey and his team dreamed up Spacecraft 3-D and made it a reality with the Google app. "We can't wait for people to try it, and we're looking forward to adding many more spacecraft to the app in the future."

Here’s how to get NASA spacecraft back on Earth in a couple seconds. Swipe for your own adventure and pick a mission to explore our planet or several others. Choose the spacecraft you want to see and wait for it to detect a flat surface, tap the screen to put it in the space right in front of you, and if that space is big enough, you can even press the button to see it at full size. Not that landing a mini virtual spacecraft on the table right in front of you isn’t the coolest thing ever.

Now that you’ve got command of your own version of a real NASA spacecraft, you can do a deep dive into the science of each mission as well as take and share photos from the app that will beat shots of any vacation your friends are posting on Instagram.

NASA/Google Spacecraft AR augmented reality app

Credit: NASA/Google

While Spacecraft AR is only accessible to Android devices that support ARCore right now, your smartphone will soon be able to beam Curiosity right in front of you as JPL and Google adjust it to be compatible with more gadgets, including anything iOS. iPhones, prepare for takeoff.

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