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I think that many 3D modeling software packages like Blender and Rhino-3D assume the presence of gravity acting downwards.

What would a person use to model a structure in microgravity (more specifically, in free fall) like a space station or a space habitat like those proposed by Gerard K. O'Neill and the Space Studies Institute in a 3D software package?

Bernal Sphere Size Comparison

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  • $\begingroup$ I think you should clarify your question a bit, there's a big difference between modeling and designing/ engineering. If you were planning on actually building something you'd never ever use blender, maya, or other modeling software. You'd use these modeling softwares if you want to make cool pictures or animations but not actual, manufacturable, components. If for this you'd need a parametric CAD software like solidworks, Catia, autocad, etc... $\endgroup$ – Dragongeek Jun 6 '18 at 11:11
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I have a fair amount of experience using Blender, Maya, and 3DS Max, three of the most popular 3D programs, and all allow you to set gravity to any value, including zero, for physics simulations. I believe that most of the Autodesk/AutoCAD software allows you the same freedom, though I can't speak from experience there.

However, a vast majority of 3D modeling doesn't require gravitational calculations to begin with, and these forces only become relevant when you turn physics simulations on. Unless you are specifically interested in computing object collisions, you don't need to worry about what gravity is set to.

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  • $\begingroup$ I didn't know that gravity could be set to any value. Good to know. But if one were to use Blender for designing a building on Earth, surely it would factor material strength and stress analysis into the model somehow? So that I couldn't design a building that when built would collapse? $\endgroup$ – Osteoboon Jul 26 '13 at 1:00
  • $\begingroup$ It is possible to use Blender that way, but for 99% of applications that isn't necessary, so why add extraneous complications? Usually physics simulations would be applied after doing the rest of the design work, if necessary. Even in professional engineering applications, the architectural design and structural analysis are usually separated into different parts of the process. $\endgroup$ – Gwen Jul 26 '13 at 1:08
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Most 3D modelling packages let you define forces - I wasn't aware Blender had gravity turned on by default, but you can turn it off.

Generally though, modelling is unlikely to require it unless you are doing detailed stress analysis, in which case I'm not sure Blender would be up to the job.

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    $\begingroup$ Detailed stress analysis would be important to me. Not that I envision the things I build in a modelling environment to actually someday be built, but I would want my model to be as realistic as possible purely for my own sake. $\endgroup$ – Osteoboon Jul 26 '13 at 0:57
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    $\begingroup$ @CopyrightX Trying to make everything as realistic as possible is an admirable goal certainly, and when I started doing 3D modeling I felt the same way. Unfortunately, most physics simulations are pretty computationally complex, and can easily increase the load on your computer by a few orders of magnitude if you aren't careful. Sometimes it's best just to manually animate what you can, and only use simulations when absolutely necessary. $\endgroup$ – Gwen Jul 26 '13 at 4:46
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Update (5/29/2018):

3D Modeling Programs:

  • SolidWorks - Used almost universally for quick spacecraft design and development. Commonly used for SmallSat/CubeSat development, however for higher fidelity design it's common practice to use Siemens NX due to the wide verity of modeling tools and how the software can handle large complex spacecrafts.
  • Siemens NX - Commonly used throughout the aerospace/space industry (NASA, SpaceX, and various other companies). Excellent software for development of large complex systems. Has a large tool and application set to make engineering, management, development, manufacturing, and analysis easier.
  • Catia - Another commonly used software within the industry. Used by Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and Bombardier. Used for both spacecraft and aircraft development.
  • Creo - Not as commonly used as the others, but still a great software that can aid in the development of spacecraft and aircraft systems.

Software Simulation & Analysis Programs:

  • COMSOL Multiphysics - Great simulation package for complex analysis and simulation of spacecraft systems in various environments.
  • Thermal Desktop - Ideal and commonly used across various NASA facilities for thermal analysis related work.

  • Integrated CAD Simulation Tools - There are various simulation packages intigrated into SolidWorks, NX, Catia, and Crea. Some packages may be idea for certain scenarios, while others might be limited in their ability to handle complex simulation scenarios.

  • Proprietary Software - Complex software such as Monte developed by NASA is a large complex "state-of-the-art aerodynamics" Python library that is commonly used to analyse missions.

Orbital Trajectory Software Simulation & Analysis Programs:

  • AGI STK - Wide spread and accepted trajectory and mission design software.

  • GMAT - Developed by NASA for trajectory and mission design. NASA uses both STK, GMAT, and Monte, just depends on the type of mission and what the engineer prefers.

  • FreeFlyer - Not very commonly used.

  • JAT - Open source simulation package developed on the JAVA framework.

3ds Max, Maya, Blender, or Cinema4D are great softwares for quick concept design and is commonly used in the game/entertainment industry. However, they are severely limited in terms of functionality for engineering related design work and analysis, and therefor are not used in development of space systems.

Source: I work in the Aerospace Industry, specifically in spacecraft and satellite development.

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  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps consider contributing to one of the answers here. Thanks for the pointer to MONTE, btw, I'd never heard of it. $\endgroup$ – Chris May 30 '18 at 1:39

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