Contributed by: Maia Mongado
Space Engine is an interactive 3D planetarium and software developed by Vladimir Romanyuk that aims to produce a visualization of the entire known universe; it also aims to produce aesthetically pleasing visuals, meaning that it makes more use of procedural and artistic generation than other softwares like OpenSpace and Gaia Sky. It draws its data from a variety of sources but mainly uses NASA data, although it is not associated with any major space agency.
It is closed source, meaning that its code is not available to see / edit by users although there are options to customize and add certain things through their add-on tutorials. The official Steam release (which is desktop and VR compatible) currently costs around $25.00, although there are some ~somewhat deprecated~ free desktop versions from before the official release. The current beta releases are only available to those who have purchased the official Steam release but there is still very much on-going work on this software and tons of new features are planned.
There is extensive documentation various bugs, news, announcements, and development of Space Engine through their forum as well as a manual for users.
Desktop Requirements and Setup
As noted above, you can download some of the pre-official betas for free on Windows; however be aware that you may run into some bugs, especially on a Windows server where I tried to test it.
Otherwise, you can download it from Steam and launch like any other game from Steam (you will need to download it first onto a local computer).
VR Requirements and Setup
Space Engine is well supported in VR. Follow desktop instructions above; the Steam app is VR supported, and you can launch it in SteamVR.
Confirmed to run for Oculus Quest + Virtual Desktop and HTC Vive + Graphics Lab computer.
supports HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Windows Mixed Reality, and Valve Index
Accessibility: The estimated time for someone to get it up and running
This program is designed to be used by people interested in astronomy at all levels and is particularly beginner friendly, since it is hosted on a popular gaming / software store. It will take a beginner around 15 minutes to setup.
Power: The engine's power - i.e. how much one can do with this
High: Extremely powerful and well supported in VR - it has a ton of up to date data. Unfortunately the project is mostly close-source, so a developer can't do too much with it outside the bounds of adding stars, etc.
Usage: Evaluation of software's use for the following purposes
Art - A great tool for visualization. While it tries to be accurate as possible, it is in the end a planetarium style software for casual users, so it does make use of procedural generation and presentation of planets.
Game design - The original direction of the software was game-like in nature and some posts by the lead developer indicate that Space Engine itself is planned to add some "game" elements or have other games use Space Engine as their backbones; however, this is just a plan for the future.
Science - Most of the data used is scientific in nature; at some points it does use procedural generation for aesthetic purposes. The backbone could be used for scientific purposes but the software as a whole is not wholly scientific.
Education - Extremely useful for education; it has a lot of accurate data but also tries to present it an engaging, aesthetically pleasing way.
I like this program a lot. Overall, it's very well geared towards casual consumers interested in something that has a good mix of scientific basis and aesthetic presentation. Since it is closed-source and does make liberal use of procedural generation, I would not recommend it to code developers or those interested in purely scientific astrovisualization.
Possibilities for Collaboration
Currently, multiplayer is not supported in Space Engine and it is closed source, so a developer can't add multiplayer if they want to. However, as indicated on this forum by a developer, multiplayer is planned:
"Multiplayer is planned eventually, yes. The thing likely to happen soonest is a shared online database where all of the planets named by people will be shared, which would be visible in game for all users (if you fly to a planet named by someone, you will see the name they gave it, can read the description they wrote, etc.). Maybe actually being able to fly around with a friend in the planetarium, with them represented by some symbolic avatar on your screen, could come after that (if it can be implemented without extreme difficulty)."
However, these are plans for the distant future.