Solar Explorer 2.6.10: You are the pilot
With the camera issues fixed in the previous version, I’m now able to add a long requested feature to Solar Explorer: manual flight control.
Access to manual flight control is from the new and improved toolbar at the bottom of the screen. I’ve moved the “Planets”, “Asteroids” and “Spacecraft” buttons into a combined “Mode” button that is next to the list of planets. Manual flight control is called “Free Flight” and is at the top of this list.
After clicking Free Flight, the familiar toolbar will vanish and be replaced by two touch joysticks, either side of the screen. The left one controls the direction the camera faces, which is the pitch and yaw. The horizontal axis on the right hand joystick controls the camera roll. Up and down controls the throttle.
At the bottom of the screen is a simple panel that shows a button to exit Flight Mode and a bar meter that represents “engine” throttle level. As you may have guessed, in manual mode, the camera flies a bit like a plane or an arcade space sim.
Because planets and moons are relatively close together, but the space between planets is vast, engine power uses an exponential function. If the throttle is less than half way, the camera will move at a fairly slow speed allowing you to manoeuvre between moons. Above half way activates “warp” mode which is much faster. Maximum speed is well in excess of light speed as the camera can travel from the Sun to Pluto in a minute or so. In reality it takes over 5 and a half hours for light emitted from the Sun to reach Pluto.
I didn’t include velocity because the app uses a logarithmic scale to position and size the planets. If you want to know why it uses a logarithmic scale, see this post.
And no, you can’t crash into the planets. You’ll just fly through them. While testing, the planets were solid, but I found that it made the controls awkward when you hit one. If I can come up with a user-friendly solution, I’ll implement in a later version.
When you exit flight mode, you’ll be taken back to Earth.
This version also features sound effects for the first time. Button touches now provide feedback with a click. When in Flight Mode there’s a sci-fi background hum, giving the impression that you are on a spaceship. Moving the camera around is accompanied by the hissing of reaction control engines. In Flight Mode, the throttle level is matched by the sound of a rocket engine that gets louder as the thrust increases.
These effects are subtle. If you don’t like them, there’s a volume control in the settings panel to turn sound effects off.
Have you ever noticed that the dots that represent far away planets would sometimes flicker? I’ve been chasing that bug for a while. Manual control allowed me to figure out what it was. The app is designed so that far away planet dots become invisible when they go behind a closer planet. A bug caused the moons of far away planets to remain visible even when the planet itself had become a dot. When these moons passed in front of their planet, rounding errors would cause them to intermittently block visibility of the planet, which triggered the dot to flicker. Distant planet dots should be rock solid now.
It was pointed out that Venus was spinning in the wrong direction. The cause was a minus sign that went missing. I’m pretty sure this same bug also happened in the early days of the original version of Solar Explorer.
Apart from this bug, there’s lots of little tweaks and changes.