OpenSpace is new open source interactive data visualization software designed to visualize the entire known universe and portray our ongoing efforts to investigate the cosmos. Bringing the latest techniques from data visualization research to the general public, OpenSpace supports interactive presentation of dynamic data from observations, simulations, and space mission planning and operations. The software works on multiple operating systems with an extensible architecture powering high resolution tiled displays and planetarium domes, making use of the latest graphic card technologies for rapid data throughput. In addition, OpenSpace enables simultaneous connections across the globe creating opportunity for shared experiences among audiences worldwide.  


OpenSpace is new, NASA supported, open source, non-commercial, and freely available software that brings the latest techniques from data visualization research to the planetarium community and general public world wide.  The project stems from the same academic collaboration between Sweden’s Linköping University (LiU) and the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) that led to the creation of Uniview and its parent company SCISS.  Development of the software began several years ago through a close collaboration with NASA Goddard’s Community Coordinated Modeling Center (CCMC) to model space weather forecasting and continued last year with visualization of NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto and ESA’s Rosetta mission. This promising set of preliminary work provided a foundation for recent NASA funding, which has extended the collaboration to include the University of Utah’s Scientific Computing and Imaging (SCI) Institute, New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering, multiple informal science institutions across the United States, and multiple, international vendors. Current areas of focus within OpenSpace include:

  • Visualization of dynamic simulations via interactive volumetric rendering, as a priority for communicating research in astrophysics.
  • Utilization of NASA’s SPICE observational geometry system with its Planetary Data Service (PDS) to enable space mission visualization that reveal how missions are designed to gather science.
  • Globe browsing techniques across spatial and temporal scales to examine scientific campaigns on multiple planets, including close up surface exploration.

The Partners

The American Museum of Natural History

The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City is one of the world’s largest natural history museums.  The Museum has a full-time scientific staff of 200 active researchers, collections of more than 33 million specimens of plants, animals, minerals, and cultural artifacts, a growing frozen tissue collection with the capacity to house approximately one million samples, and digital collections that include astrophysical data, molecular and genomic sequences, and satellite imagery. AMNH has a distinguished history as a leader in in science visualization technology designed to convey sophisticated science concepts to a general audience and a long record of successful partnerships with NASA that enhance science education for large local and national audiences.

Linköping University

Linköping University is one of the worlds leading universities in the field of Scientific Visualization. The desire for an interactive exploration tool for scientific data and the ability to communicate scientific findings initiated the development of the OpenSpace project in 2014. Since then, student internships at NASA Goddard and AMNH have contributed to the development of the project. Since 2002 LiU has conducted a successful series of masters thesis internships with AMNH to visualize its Digital Universe 3D Atlas (DU), a data set originally supported by NASA during the millennium rebuild of the Museum’s famed Hayden Planetarium.  This work spawned the commercial software called Uniview and the company SCISS that authors it as now one of the world’s leading vendors in planetarium technology.

NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering

The Visualization and Data Analysis (ViDA) lab at New York University’s (NYU) Polytechnic School of Engineering has a strong tradition in the development of open source tools. One of its best known examples is the open source data exploration system VisTrails. VisTrails is used in NASA labs, and has been partially funded by NASA. Another major project is the Ultrascale Visualization Climate Data Analysis Tools (UV-CDAT), a novel climate data analysis system, which recently won the Federal Laboratory Consortium Interagency Partnership Award. NASA is one of the partnering institutions in the development of UV-CDAT.

University of Utah Scientific Computing and Imaging (SCI) Institute

Over the past decade, the Scientific Computing and Imaging (SCI) Institute at the University of Utah has established itself as an internationally recognized leader in visualization, scientific computing, and image analysis applied to a broad range of application domains. SCI Institute research generally falls into the areas of scientific visualization, scientific computing and numerics, image processing and analysis, and scientific software environments. A particular hallmark of SCI Institute research is the development of innovative and robust software packages, including the SCIRun scientific problem solving environment, Seg3D, ImageVis3D, FluoRender, ViSUS, and map3d. All these packages are broadly available to the scientific community under open source licensing and supported by web pages, documentation, and users groups. Software at the SCI Institute is developed in close collaboration with application users to satisfy real needs within their research communities.