2015-11-28: Rocket Science For Amateurs

I’ve been fiddling with the Orbiter space flight simulator since early 2009. One of the interesting features is its community of users on the Orbiter Forum. The veterans are very welcoming to newbies, and constantly helpful in solving problems. They also analyze recent space-related events and proposals. Several members expend large efforts in developing add-ons to enhance the Orbiter experience, particularly the developer of Orbiter itself, Dr. Martin Schweiger.

Among the contributions is a book, Go Play In Space (GPIS), written by Bruce Irving with help from a couple of others. For several years, newbies have been urged to read this book for a gentle introduction to Orbiter. A second edition of the book was written for the 2006 version of Orbiter. When the 2010 version was released, I heard that Bruce was planning a new revision. I volunteered to help edit the new version, to test updated scenarios, and otherwise try to be helpful without actually having enough expertise to make primary contributions. Bruce and Mark Paton accepted my help, and we updated about six of the ten chapters. However, the process was slow, with everyone having other commitments, and eventually petered out.

It occurred to me that it would be simpler to switch from a book-oriented approach for GPIS to a wiki-like approach. This would allow updates to be made incrementally, and by multiple contributors. The analog is the “release early, release often” approach to tech startups. I was also aware of some other out-dated Orbiter-related documentation that might benefit from this approach. I conceived the idea of an umbrella website that would include this type of reference documentation, and thought of calling it Rocket Science For Amateurs (RSFA). I contacted the relevant authors and obtained permission and encouragement to proceed, and actually set up a MediaWiki website for the purpose.

The administrative overhead of running the site proved too burdensome. However, OrbiterWiki is another Orbiter-related website. It seemed easier to move the RSFA material there. The main difficulty was restrictions on the types and size of files that can be stored on Orbiter Wiki. I was able to reach the administrator, and made a pitch for RSFA. He (or she; user names are ambiguous) made the necessary changes, and I moved the latest versions of GPIS and the IMFD Full Manual to OrbiterWiki. I announced it on Orbiter Forum on 2015-01-02. Since the announcement, I added an index to a set of YouTube tutorials and demonstrations.

There has been little response so far (over a year on). I have ideas for additional topics to add, reposting (with permission) some orbital dynamics articles by another Orbinaut.


  • 2015-11-28: in-progress – three topic areas ready for use (out of a dozen or so possible)
  • 2016-02-14: Added article on a Simplectic Integrator (by Keithth G)
  • 2017-03-12: Discovered that several articles by Keithth G on Orbiter Forum, which would have made good material for RSFA, have been deleted; no reasons have been given, but someone speculated that his employer might have viewed the material as their intellectual property.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email