If you’ve ever wondered what the docking system of SpaceX’s Dragon2 spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) is like, then watch out, because the online simulator allows you to easily check it out.

The simulator, programmed by SpaceX’s own engineers, allows anyone to try to dock that spacecraft using a series of controls that are virtually identical to those used by astronauts if they need that manual docking. Achieving it is not easy, but there is already a “speedrun” competition that shows that there are people who achieve it in just 20 seconds.

The simulator website itself shows two controls at the bottom left and right, plus a HUD in which you can check information about movements and speed that are key to achieve a perfect coupling.

In fact any press on the controls makes the rotation, tilt or position vary significantly (the “-” and “+” on the left side allow us to “accelerate” or “brake”), and in front of us we will always have a kind of virtual channel of hexagons that help us to know that we are on the right track.

We can control the simulator with the mouse, but if we want to go further it is also possible to control all the functions with the keyboard: the WASDQE keys control the movement, while the cursor, comma and dot keys control the rotation.

The simulator has been available for some time and was programmed by Shane Mielke. With it, it is possible to become familiar with the actual controls used by NASA astronauts to manually pilot Space X’s Dragon 2 spacecraft as they attempt to dock with the International Space Station.

As this developer explains, the simulator fully mimics the actual controls and interface present on the screens of the Crew Dragon spacecraft, and in fact this simulator is also used by NASA as part of their educational program.

The simulator has become a bit of a viral video game for some users who are now unwittingly creating a ‘speedrun’ competition to try to achieve the fastest possible docking. There are several who have published their achievements on YouTube, and there are those who achieve it in just 20 seconds.

Things have gone further, and instead of applying manual skill, there are developers who have created JavaScript “bots” to do this coupling autonomously through the use of artificial intelligence. Others have done something similar in Go and WebAssembly, and certainly this is another curious exercise to overcome the challenge posed by the game.

At first it takes a bit of getting used to the controls and you will probably end up wandering through space without control on the first try or two, but with a little practice it is possible to achieve a perfect docking.


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