Top Space Themed VR Apps for Google Cardboard

By Matthew Allen

Google Cardboard is the cheap and affordable Virtual Reality device that turns your mobile phone in to a VR headset. There are hundreds of VR apps on the Google Play and Apple App stores. Let’s take a look at some of the top space and astronomy themed Google Cardboard apps that you can download on to your phone for free!

The Google Cardboard headset. Credit: By Evan-Amos – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45580283

You might have heard of the Occulus Rift or the HTC Vive, which have been making headlines as the high cost, exciting, futuristic virtual reality headsets that have been released in 2016. But, you might not have heard of Google Cardboard, the cheap device which turns your smart phone in to a VR headset. Similar to other devices, such as the Samsung Gear, you simply slot your phone in to the front of the headset, load up a VR app that you downloaded from either the Google Play Store or Apple App store and away you go! Virtual reality for around £10!

So, once you’re set up using your Google Cardboard headset, what are the best apps out there that you can play with? Well, let’s take a look at some of the best space and astronomy themed apps that you can get right now for free, both for education and for fun!

Titans of Space

It’s easy to book yourself on to a tour of a museum, an ancient castle or a national monument; but booking a tour of the Solar System is a little bit trickier. Titans of Space offers you just this, a flying tour of the titanic sized objects in our Solar System and beyond! You begin your tour by soaring past the planets and major moons in our Solar System, with a light educational blurb about each object at the bottom of the screen. After comparing the enormity of Saturn, Jupiter and the Sun, you are transported to even more extreme sized objects in our galaxy, ever scaling larger and larger until you can scarcely believe or comprehend the size of the giant stars in front of your eyes!

The app is a really great way to explore space and our Solar System, with the entire tour taking around 10-15 minutes. The text about each object provides a nice little educational and informative addition to what is otherwise a demonstration of the incredible visual impact that VR can have. A classical music soundtrack adds to the immersion to round up a really great app that you could use on your own at home or to a class of children.

You can download Titans of Space for free from the Google Play Store and Apple App store.

Rosetta and Philae VR

The Rosetta and Philae VR app, available on the Google Play Store

The Rosetta and Philae VR app, available on the Google Play Store

The European Space Agency (ESA) satellite Rosetta captured our attention and hearts in 2014 when it reached the comet 67P and landed the tiny robot Philae on its surface. We all watched in anticipation as Philae landed and bounced off the comet, before finally settling in some still unknown location on its surface, where it and Rosetta continued to study and research the comet to a level never done before!

I was fascinated by the mission and really wanted to try to visualise the comparative sizes of the Rosetta satellite and the comet. I decided to develop a virtual reality app for Google Cardboard where you can learn more about the mission. The app allows you to see accurate 3D models of comet 67P, Philae and Rosetta; to watch the story of Rosetta over its 10 year journey to the comet and see the path that Rosetta took in a model version of the Solar System. You can also view some of the images taken by Rosetta and ones related to the mission in the VR photo gallery.

You can download Rosetta and Philae VR for free from the Google Play Store.

StarTracker VR – Mobile Sky Map

Virtual observatories and planetariums, which allow you to look around and see where the stars, galaxies and other celestial bodies are in the sky, have been available on computers and at science centres for decades. However, Virtual Reality planetariums are now the new big thing, allowing you to experience your own personal virtual planetarium in 3D. One of the better VR planetarium apps available is StarTracker VR, which shows you the stars, galaxies, planets, nebulae and constellations all around you. It claims to use your GPS position to align what you see in the app with what you see in the sky, allowing you to spot something in the real world and inspect it in the virtual world!

It doesn’t have a great number of features, but is a really great way of studying the night sky without having to stand outside in the cold!

You can download StarTracker VR for free from the Google Play Store.

YouTube

YouTube offers lot's of great VR ready videos that you can watch with Google Cardboard. Credit: By YouTube - https://www.youtube.com/yt/about/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44301400

YouTube offers lot’s of great VR ready videos that you can watch with Google Cardboard.
Credit: By YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/yt/about/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44301400

You might not think of YouTube as a VR app, but there are actually a large number of videos that you can watch in 360 degrees using your VR headset. There are a number of great space and astronomy based videos, the best of which we have listed below. To watch them, download and open the official YouTube app on your phone and search for the videos below. Press the little white Google Cardboard logo in the bottom right of the phone screen to temporarily change your phone to VR mode, slot your phone in the Google Cardboard headset and enjoy!

“Airbus VR Experience – Mars 360 release” – A short video where you crash land on Mars and go on a brief walk around its surface.

“Space Station 360: Unity (Node 1)” – A brief tour of one of the modules on the International Space Station. There are other videos released by ESA of the other modules, so be sure to check them out as well – just search YouTube for ‘Space Station 360’.

Space Engine 0.9.7.4 Beta [360 Video] – Earth and Moon” – A video tour of the moon and the Earth. A great way of showing the scale of the two objects.

The apps that weren’t so good…

To write this blog post, I spent around an hour finding space themed VR apps and trying them out. Apps like Titans of Space and SkyTracker were really enjoyable and easy to use and had obviously taken a lot of time to perfect. Yet, some of the apps fell victim to number one crime of VR apps – motion sickness!

It was interesting to see how Titans of Space, an app where you fly through the Solar System, didn’t have any negative effects on me. Yet, some of the apps which did very similar things made me feel very queasy! Non-smooth motion was almost always to blame, along with the picture moving a bit too long after I moved my head, which creates a similar effect experienced by people when they get sea sick on a boat.

I know how much effort it takes to make a VR app, so I’m not going to name apps that weren’t so good, but it was certainly interesting (and often unpleasant!) to see the difference between good VR apps and not so good one. Still, there are plenty more great apps for Google Cardboard out there than the ones listed here, so search the app stores for “VR” or “Google Cardboard”.

Why not comment below with some of the great space themed VR apps you try on your phones!

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We are the space made simple team, part of a social enterprise called science made simple, who perform science, maths and engineering shows to schools, festivals and public audiences.

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