SpaceCraft: Solar Explorer

isometric overview

SpaceCraft: Solar Explorer is a interactive museum installation, which allows visitors to digitally build rockets on a tabletop, using tangible physical blocks, and then launch and pilot their creations on a large-scale floor projection of the solar system. Visitors create, explore, interact and play in a social, immersive space; their body movement and interactions with their peers are rewarded with animated themed effects. Crafters follow their ships through the solar system, learning a bit about basic physics, orbital mechanics concepts, and the elements of the solar system, while engaging in fun experiential learning and embodied experimentation.

storyboard of launch station interaction

launch station

SpaceCraft is an ongoing research project, designed and developed primarily as a interdisciplinary collaboration between students from NC State’s College of Design and College of Engineering, and guided by faculty in the Visual Narrative (VN) Cluster.  It began in the Fall of 2017, in Prof. Todd Berreth’s Narrative and Art Making Using Digital Interfaces course (ADN 492/561), and continued in a collaborative VN interactive media design studio in the Spring of 2018 (ADN 460/CSC 495), co-taught by design and computer science faculty, including Prof. Arnav Jhala, co-director of the Visual Narrative Cluster and the CS Digital Games Research Initiative.

Teams of student designers, computer scientists and engineers worked together, researching, brainstorming and developing initial concepts, and prototyping and iterating interactive artifacts.  The design was guided, where possible, by real client interaction; the first two courses included design briefs and continual feedback provided by exhibition staff at the Museum of Life + Science (MLS) , a children’s interactive science museum in Durham, NC. The project is proceeding, in consultation with the MLS, the NC State Leadership in Public Science Faculty Cluster, and faculty in the Aerospace Engineering and Physics departments at the university, among others.

Custom controllers for launch station

This project, and the courses surrounding it, are a model for 21st century project-based educational practice, where students are engaged in deep interdisciplinary problem-solving, while at the same time building collaboration, project-management and technology development skills, which are critical for our next generation workforce. SpaceCraft: Solar Explorer investigates the potential of emerging open-source technologies, game-based learning, and novel narrative-based environments, to allow new, powerful public science storytelling experiences, hopefully to encourage visitors to dig even deeper into the subject matter after they leave the exhibit.

Development Videos

Team Members

  • Todd Berreth (Art + Design)(faculty advisor)
  • Arnav Jhala (Computer Science)(faculty advisor)
  • Connor Shipway (research assistant)
  • Stephanie Lee Huang (research assistant)
  • Daxit Agarwal
  • Chris Miller
  • Bethany Cantrell

Previous Related Student Projects

  • Rocket Builder (Shipway and Huang)(ADN 492/561)
  • Cosmic Explorer (Agarwal, Huneycutt, White, Cantrell, Pfeffer and Miller)(ADN 460/CSC 495)