Does anyone here remember MS Space Simulator? Or better yet, use the freeware space sim Orbiter? I have to say that I am a borderline space junky when it comes to the outer space gig whether it comes in the form of a PC Game or even a console game. No matter the challenge or its lack of challenge, I always find myself wanting more.
It all came to fruition with the release of FSX as the folks over at Microsoft had added the ability to travel way above Earth's atmosphere giving FSX a whole new look and feel when it came to climbing far above the planet. Anxiously awaiting a product that would take full advantage of this feature, I was glad to see the Shuttle from Captain Sim.
So, when Space Shuttle from Captain Sim was released, I was ready but I ultimately decided to wait it out and see what the general concensus was about this one. After waiting for some time and reading a lot of comments, both negative and positive, about the Shuttle add-on, I was ready to give it a shot and after seeing that Just Flight had released the Captain Sim Shuttle on DVD, I was quick to get a hold of it and I found myself anticipating the feeling of orbiting our precious planet called Earth within Microsoft Flight Simulator X!
Installation and Documentation
Installation is like any other Just Flight product, simply insert the disc and go. There are no pesky registration numbers and all is quick and easy.
Once the installation is complete you will find two new icons on your desktop. These are the individual launchers for whatever version you want to use it with. It is required that you launch the Shuttle through these startup programs otherwise the shuttle will not fly correctly within MSFS.
The manual is nicely done and the product ships with a printed one. In the manual you will find an easy to understand tutorial along with easy to understand instructions on the different types of instruments and get an understanding of how they work and why they work. The tutorial is required if you want to take the shuttle through all stages of flight that this product models, there is so much to know and a lot to learn.
The Captain Sim Space Shuttle
The Just Flight/ Captain Sim Space Shuttle ships with the entire fleet of current space shuttles as well as those that are no longer with us. The included shuttles are the Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Endeavor, Atlantis and of course the Enterprise. Each model is designed with detail in mind and is historically accurate to that of their real world counterparts. They really are impressive to look at, is it worth the price tag though? That is the question you will have to ask yourself!
The first model I couldn’t wait to jump into was that of the Enterprise. Not only because of my interest in Star Trek, but because it was the Shuttle that essentially started it all and I was surprised to see that the model actually appeared different than that of the newer shuttles. There is definitely a big difference when you compare the Endeavor to the Enterprise.
Most impressive are the shuttle’s engines, while the detail is excruciating, I only wished they did something. I would have also liked to have seen a mode where the Shuttle Enterprise could be launched from atop a 747, or something historically accurate to that effect would have made the overall product much more appealing.
As you pan your view around the Shuttle, it has an incredibly realistic look to it, almost photorealistic textures! Not only is the exterior highly detailed but as is the interior flight deck and the payload bay, you do get a certain sense of being there. The bottom of the ship is also nicely done and includes reentry effects when bringing the shuttle down from orbit and into the TAEM mode of flight.
I did find one glitch. If you start a flight and switch to a different shuttle, the controls automatically divert back to the default FS controls making the shuttle almost uncontrollable and most of the time puts the ship into an uncontrollable dive or crazy spins that aren’t recoverable. So, switching to the different shuttles isn’t possible in the TAEM or landing modes. The book says that you can switch, but after trying to make the switch in either FSX or FS9, I was unable to make the other shuttles work properly. I would have thought that the selection of each shuttle would have been done through the launcher, but it is not.
I really think there could have been a lot more added to this package just to give it more value. How about a mode where you can escort the shuttle in for landing? That would require the shuttle to be controlled by AI, but it would have been kind of fun. Or better yet, it would have been interesting to have seen some kind of scenery in and around the landing zone. Although this package does include the landing strip, there is absolutely no activity in and around the runway. The answer there would be to get The Cape from Aerosoft, but for performance reasons I had to turn it off when using the shuttle in FSX. Cape Canaveral from Aerosoft in FS9 works wonderfully though!
The Command Deck!
The command deck is impressive, though it really doesn’t serve much purpose as most of the displays really don’t do anything and are there just for esthetic value. Overall though, I was amazed at how much detail there is and how well modeled each station was aboard the craft.
Piloting the shuttle is like flying a glider, there is absolutely no power, so you are on the glide all the way down from re-entry to TAEM and then onto landing. The instruments will play a critical part during those aspects of flight. I did notice that the CRT’s tend to cycle between different modes depending on what mode of operation you are in.
I remember reading somewhere right after this product was originally released by Captain Sim, that the flight decks were actually outdated and don’t represent that of the current shuttle fleet. This overall is of little consequence because you aren’t going to really need any of those systems to get the ship back on the ground. If that doesn’t work for you, then you can opt to use the default glass panels that come with FSX Deluxe. These panels are available via the MSFS views menu.
The entire deck is laid out and is extremely detailed with lots of clickable buttons and switches; but do these buttons really do anything? That is the answer I would like to know and I think they are just there for looks more than anything else. There are some buttons and switches that do work in conjunction with the current flight mode, such as auto trim and auto roll, but the entire glide can be achieved without using any of them. Knowing when to do what is also important, as you make the decent from orbit. It is critical to pay attention to the onboard instruments otherwise the overall approach will not work.
As you peruse the entire virtual cabin that is the command deck, you can’t help but appreciate the detail. Although what little in the virtual cockpit actually does, it is still impressive.
The gauges in the shuttles are 100% accurate to that of their real world counterparts. Though aged and not as modern as the Shuttles in operation today, they are still accurate and appear as they did when they were in use. Most impressive is the onboard HUD, this is where all of the critical flight information is displayed and it is your role, as Shuttle Commander, to understand how it works.
Flying the Shuttle
When you enter FSX through the shuttle launcher, you will have the option of either starting your flight from orbit just before reentry, or at TAEM and then of course landing. After clicking on which mode you want through the launcher, you will be given a short video of a computer generated shuttle launching and going into orbit, simply hitting escape will take you beyond this. The launch sequence didn’t impress me that much, as it seemed a little too generic. Why didn’t they use footage of an actual launch? I guess you can just go to the Orbiter sim and launch one yourself!
The three modes of flight are as follows, 1. Re-entry flight which starts the shuttle at 400,000 feet; 2. TAEM (Terminal Area Energy Management); 3. An approach which starts the orbiter at 15,000 feet. With FSX, all three modes are available, however, with FS9 only the Approach mode is available.
The first thing you need to know about the Shuttle is that it doesn’t use the traditional controls within FS, especially when you are in orbit. From being in orbit through all stages of reentry, you will find that the shuttle operates using modified slew mode within FSX. Now the slew mode has been changed to give the shuttle a more realistic feeling of flight, so the controls are no longer the same as the traditional slew commands but overall they are similar. Once you are in TAEM mode of flight, you will still maintain slew control until you are at the final phase and ready to land. Maintaining a proper path of flight and altitude is very important for lining up with the landing strip, if you get off course it can cost you your ship!
I don’t really think there is any way to model such stages of flight within Flight Simulator without using the slew mode, especially at the altitudes that the shuttle fly’s at. But who knows, over time that could change.
Starting in orbit and putting the shuttle into reentry mode is relatively easy, as it just starts descending through the atmosphere almost immediately. The only real control here is maintaining the proper pitch and making sure that the shuttle stays on its approach vector to TAEM. From this mode it is possible to use the slew mode to gain more altitude and actually sustain orbit and watch some of the other eye candy that only occurs during orbit, like opening the payload doors and deploying the SRMS.
I really didn’t think after doing the above that I would really find anything else interesting in this add-on, as it just doesn’t seem to offer a whole lot as a reusable product. But once I got into the landing phases of flight, I was hooked!
After using the landing mode in FSX, I wasn’t too happy with my frame rates, so I decided to go and try it in FS9 and it ran so much better. A fluid flight from the start of the approach to bringing the ship to a stop was my reward for a job well done. After I turned off the Cape Canaveral scenery from Aerosoft in FSX, the performance was much better and the craft was flyable.
Overall an entire flight with the shuttle from orbit to landing should take some time and I guess that is where the product ultimately pays for itself.
The sound is, well, almost non existent. Of course there are no engines but while in slew mode the only sound that I could get was that of the wind while in TAEM mode. I never did hear any voice until the shuttle was on approach and finally on landing. I also noticed that after the end of the flight and you have stopped the shuttle, there is communication between the shuttle and NASA, but if you crash and burn and have to reset the flight, the voices cease to work. The only way to fix this is to end Flight Simulator and start it up again through the Shuttle start utility.
In The End
Do I like this add-on? Yes and no. For what it is it, it's unique and adds a new element to the world that is Flight Simulator. For the price tag, I really can’t see it. It is essentially a landing simulator and that is it; on the other hand though, it is a big part of our history and if there was anyway to add the Shuttle to MSFS, the folks over at Captain Sim have done it and if you’re a space junky then you will probably want this. But I have got to tell you that just loading up the shuttle in FSX and watching it sit on the runway gets a little boring.
Part of me says that I probably won’t use it again, but another part of me finds myself back at the helm time and time again. I think it is just the mere challenge of getting the shuttle on the ground that keeps me interested.
Overall, if you have some extra bucks and want to try something a little different, then the Space Shuttle might be for you. Just don’t go into it with a lot of expectations as far as what the overall product does, otherwise you will definitely be disappointed. If you keep an open mind and see it for what it is, then I think you will find a part of you that really likes it.
What I Like About The Space Shuttle
What I Don't Like About The Space Shuttle
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