You know how you can somehow not see something long after you should have noticed it? Such is the case with Orbiter. On the Orbiter homepage, the software is described as,

a free flight simulator that goes beyond the confines of Earth’s atmosphere. Launch the Space Shuttle from Kennedy Space Center to deploy a satellite, rendezvous with the International Space Station or take the futuristic Delta-glider for a tour through the solar system — the choice is yours.

But make no mistake — Orbiter is not a space shooter. The emphasis is firmly on realism, and the learning curve can be steep. Be prepared to invest some time and effort to brush up on your orbital mechanics background. Good starting points are JPL’s Basics of Space Flight, and R. Braeunig’s Rocket & Space Technology.

This is right up my alley so I was amazed to discover the software’s been out for at least seven years now. The latest version was released in 2006. And still, I just heard about it for the first time yesterday. The author, Martin Schweiger, holds a Ph.D and is a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre For Medical Image Computing at University College London. He considers the development of Orbiter a hobby and doesn’t charge money for it. He does accept donations however, and if the software is as good as it looks, he’ll certainly get one from me. Have a look at this screen capture from the simulator showing a space shuttle launch, just after the solid rocket booster separation:

The reason I stumbled across mention of Orbiter is I was searching for information about the Eagle spacecraft from Space: 1999. Someone mentioned the simulator and I found it with some help from Google. Of particular interest is the Eagle add-on some wonderful soul constructed for the simulator:

I already know I won’t be getting much done this weekend. Until then, I’m not even going to download the simulator because I might forget to go to sleep.