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Camera control

The camera is controlled using the mouse and keyboard, or by using an attached joystick or gamepad after you set the control assignments. There are three control modes: Free mode, Spacecraft mode, and Aircraft mode. These can be toggled by pressing keys [1], [2], and [3] respectively. The camera in Free mode has no inertia, whereas Spacecraft mode and Aircraft mode have inertia.

Free mode

Free mode is the default mode, but can also be set by using the [1] key. The controls are similar to a First-Person Shooter game, using the [W] [A] [S] [D] [R] [F] keys + Mouse to control the orientation and movement of the camera.

To rotate the camera (up, down, left and right) press the [Left mouse button] (LMB) and drag the mouse. To rotate counter-clockwise around the camera's longitudinal axis (view axis), press [E], and for clockwise press [Q]. Rotation can also be controlled using the numeric keypad: [8] and [2] for up and down, [4] and [6] for left and right, and [7] and [9] for clockwise and counter-clockwise. The [Num Lock] key does not affect these controls at all.

To move forward press [W], the camera will then accelerate forward. To move backward, press [S]; to move left, press [A]; to move right, press [D]; to move up, press [R]; and to move down, press [F]. To stop anytime, just release the movement keys. Movement can also be controlled by using the arrow keys: The [Up] and [Down] keys controls movement forward and backward, and [Left] and [Right] move to the left and right. Movement up and down can be controlled by the [1] and [0] keys on the numeric keypad.

To increase flight speed, press and hold the [+] on the numeric keypad or [=] on the main keyboard. To reduce speed, press and hold the [-] key. Your current speed is displayed at top center of the screen, but only when speed is being changed. Speed information is also displayed permanently at the bottom left of the screen. Changing velocity gradually can be controlled by scrolling the Mouse wheel up and down. To increase or decrease speed rapidly press [+] or [-] while holding down the [Ctrl] key. You can also use [Ctrl] + [Mouse wheel]. These speed increases can be incrementally preset; for example: 1 km/s to 3 km/s, 10 km/s, etc. They can also be customized from the config/user.cfg file.

Spacecraft mode

Spacecraft mode can be set by using the [2] key. In this mode the camera's behavior resembles a rigid body in zero gravity: the camera maintains its linear and angular velocity in the absence of keyboard and mouse input; therefore the camera's absolute direction of motion does not depend upon the orientation of the camera.

Pressing a movement key (as described in Free mode above) accelerates the camera in that direction. The rate of acceleration can be changed by using the [+] and [-] keys or the [Mouse wheel] as explained in detail in Free Mode above.

[Mouse drag] + [LMB] causes the camera to angularly (rotationally) accelerate. The acceleration is proportional to the magnitude of the mouse shift. Pressing the rotation keys ( [Q], [E] and [4], [6], [8], [2], [7], [9] on the numeric keypad) defines a fixed angular acceleration. Releasing [LMB] turns off acceleration, and the camera will continue to rotate at a constant rate. To stop moving completely, press [Z]; to stop rotating press [X], or [5] on the numeric keypad.

Aircraft mode

Aircraft mode can be set by pressing the [3] key. This mode is similar to Spacecraft mode in that movement and rotation rates remain constant, while the control keys and mouse accelerate the camera's linear and angular velocity (movement and rotation). However, unlike in Spacecraft mode, the camera's direction of movement is synced to its orientation. If you accelerate forward, then rotate the camera, the camera will continue to move in the direction that you rotated it to. Giving the camera the right forward speed with the [W] key allows you to use this mode somewhat like a flight simulator, changing flight direction by rotating the camera. [Z] and [X] are used to stop the camera's movement and rotation, like in Spacecraft mode.

Collision detection

When the camera collides with a planetary surface, its motion will be canceled to prevent penetration of the surface. If the camera's velocity is greater than 1 km/s when collision occurs, its velocity will reset to 20-30 m/s to prevent flying too fast over the surface.

Some commands are also available on the lower-left toolbar.


Camera binding modes

Camera movement in SpaceEngine can be tied to any space object, creating a reference frame relative to which the camera moves. This allows the camera to be fixed relative to the moving object. Objects can be either fixed (stars, system barycenters, star clusters, nebulae, galaxies), or moving (stars in binary and multiple systems, planets, moons, asteroids, comets, and spacecraft), rotating or not. There are two options for binding the camera to an object: Follow mode and Synchronous rotation mode.

Follow Mode

The Follow mode keeps the camera stationary relative to the bound object. This mode is activated for a selected object by pressing [Shift]+[F], or by using the context menu. The camera uses the center of the object as the reference frame in which it performs its maneuvers. From here, the camera follows the object while it moves through space, but the object can still rotate relative to the camera.

Sync Rot Mode

The Sync Rot mode keeps the camera stationary relative to the surface of certain objects (stars, planets, moons, asteroids, comets, and spacecraft as of version This mode is activated for the selected object by pressing [Shift]+[R], or by using the context menu. The camera uses the surface of the object as the reference frame against which it performs its maneuvers. The camera remains fixed relative to the surface of the object while it moves through space and rotates around its own axis; i.e., on a planet's surface, it is fixed to the planet's rotating surface as if it were standing still. From here sunrises, sunsets, clouds, stars, planets and moons are best seen when they are moving across the sky with time speed increased.


When moving to an object using the autopilot, the camera will be bound to that body in Follow mode. But when the camera gets very close to the surface, or even collides with it, the bind mode will automatically switch to Sync Rot mode. Sync Rot mode is also automatically selected when landing on an object using the autopilot. When flying away from the planet, the binding mode will automatically switch back to Follow Mode. This mode-switching can be seen clearly when increasing the time-rate while landing and taking-off from a planet. Follow or Sync Rot mode can also be overridden manually just by pressing the [Shift]+[F] or [Shift]+[R] keys - thus disabling auto-switching of the bind mode. Autobinding can be re-enabled by using the autopilot [Go to] command, or just by crashing into the planet's surface at a velocity higher than 1 km/s (see Collision detection).


The camera can be entirely unbound by pressing [Shift]+[D]. With the camera unbound, the only objects which will appear stationary are those which do not orbit any others, like the central star or barycenter of a system, the center of a cluster or galaxy, or a nebula.