Mike Heddes

Settlers of the Galaxy

Animation & InteractionNov 10, 2019

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Data by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory

In May 2019 the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) held the tenth edition of the Global Trajectory Optimization Competition (GTOC) named Settlers of the Galaxy. Each edition teams need to optimize a highly complex problem related to interplanetary trajectory design. The problem is provided by the team that won the previous edition. GTOC was started by the Advanced Concepts Team (ACT) of the European Space Agency (ESA). More about the origin of GTOC can be found on the GTOC origin page.

The task in GTOC X is to settle as many of the one hundred thousand star systems as possible, in as uniform a spatial distribution as possible, while using as little propulsive velocity change as possible.

Jet Propulsion Laboratory

During GTOC X I was interning at the ACT were I had a front-row seat during this tense competition. I would encourage everyone to read the full problem specification, even though this edition is over it is a fascinating problem to think about. The solution that the ACT came up with is shown in the video in figure 1. They managed to get third in the competition behind NUDT&XSCC and Tsinghua LAD - XINGYI who were first and second, respectively.

Figure 1: The final submission by the Advanced Concept Team.

I used the data provided by JPL for the competition to simulate an approximation of our galaxy. The simulation made with WebGL includes 100,001 stars in various circular orbits around the center of our galaxy. Our sun is visualized as a larger yellow dot. An interactive version of this simulation can be found on the Settlers of the Galaxy playground page. The code for this animation can be found on my GitHub repository.