shapeViewer is a publicly available scientific software designed to display a 3D model of a comet/asteroid, simulate observations from a space mission, project data on the shape. It provides a series of tools specifically developed for mapping and geomorphological investigation.

shapeViewer has been used for operations planning and scientific analysis by the Rosetta (ESA) and Dawn (NASA) missions since 2010. shapeViewer officially supports future missions to asteroids and comets (Hera, CAESAR, Lucy, MASCOT).


  • 3D display of small bodies shape models with photometrically accurate rendering,
  • switch to a new mission or load shapes with > 1 million facets in less than a second, runs at 60 FPS on a standard laptop,
  • interactive visualization of the illumination conditions, accurate shadows,
  • real time rendering of operational scenarios (e.g. a fly-by), spacecraft orbit and attitude provided by SPICE, pre-configured for each mission,
  • retrieval of observation geometry and solar angles (incidence, emission, phase, elevation),
  • calculation and display of the gravity field and effective slopes on the surface,
  • accurate projection of images and other datasets on the shape, individually or in a user-defined sequence (on the fly, no need for any preprocessing of the data),
  • view and export cylindrical, orthographic maps,
  • measure distances and areas on the shape, or on projected images,
  • extract topographic profiles,
  • ... and many other features

Screenshots and movies

NavCam image
shapeViewer simulation
of the same view

Visualizations can be exported as individual frames and assembled in a movie.
Here, videos are played back at the same frame rate they run in shapeViewer itself.

Projected NAC color data
from Oklay et al, A&A (2016)
Southern hemisphere of
asteroid Itokawa
Image mosaic projected on asteroid Vesta.
Shading describes gravitational slopes.
Same view as a map,
with one of the mutiple projections provided

Additional information

shapeViewer can be used to simulate images of any space mission for which SPICE kernels are available.
Several mission packages are available by default, or can be downloaded here.
To use a mission package, simply unzip the downloaded archive into the "missions" folder in your shapeViewer directory. You load the new mission by selecting the relevant XML file (e.g. "Rosetta_67P.xml") from shapeViewer's menu ("File/Load mission package...").
Each package contains everything needed for the given mission (shape models, kernels) and pre-congifures the software accordingly.

Available missions: Dedicated packages can be generated easily for other missions, contact me fore more information.

Download and install

shapeViewer is currently distributed for Windows systems only (see note below).
It is provided as a single zip file. Extract it in the folder of your choice, and run the shapeViewer.exe executable file.
A graphic card supporting at least OpenGL 2.0 is necessary (usually true if your computer was built after 2004).


Note: shapeViewer is built with cross-platform libraries and can be compiled for other systems although I lack the time to do so.
Many users have reported using successfully the Windows executable on Mac OS and Linux systems through the WINE interface.
Contact me if you absolutely need a native Linux version, and we may work out a solution.

User manual

shapeViewer is distributed with a user manual which can be consulted offline and within the software.
The latest version is also available on this website.

Latest changelog (complete list in User Manual)

shapeViewer 3.0.4 - 22/02/2021
    - "exportgrat" command to write a grid of the current graticule to a file
    - "exportgrav" command to export the surface gravity in spherical coordinates
    - a progress bar is now displayed for the more expensive calculations (shadows, image projection, gravity)
    - if gravity/slopes data exists, selecting a point with right-click in "Coordinates" mode will display the local gravity/slopes value
    - upgraded FLTK to version 1.4, no change for the user
    - no more loss of precision when loading gravity data from a file
To be notified of new releases, send an email to shapeviewer[at]comet-toolbox.com.


I kindly ask each publication making use of shapeViewer to include the following acknowledgement:

This research has made use of the scientific software shapeViewer (www.comet-toolbox.com).


Since 2010, shapeViewer has been used in more than 20 papers and conference talks.
Here is a list of selected peer-reviewed publications which benefited from the software.
  • O'Rourke et al. The Philae lander reveals low-strength primitive ice inside cometary boulders. Nature, (2020).
  • Birch et al. Migrating Scarps as a Significant Driver for Cometary Surface Evolution. GRL, (2019).
  • Vincent et al. Bouncing boulders on comet 67P. EPSC, (2019).
  • Vincent et al. shapeViewer, a sofware for the scientific mapping and morphological analysis of small bodies, LPSC, (2018).
  • Birch et al. Geomorphology of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. MNRAS, 469:S50-S67 (2017).
  • Gicquel et al. Modeling of the outburst on 2015 July 29 observed with OSIRIS camĀ­eras in the Southern hemisphere of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. MNRAS, 469:S178-S185 (2017).
  • Masoumzadeh et al. Opposition effect on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko using Rosetta-OSIRIS images. A&A, 599:A11 (2017).
  • Oklay et al. Long-term survival of surface water ice on comet 67P. MNRAS, 469:S582-S597 (2017).
  • Pajola et al. The pristine interior of comet 67P revealed by the combined Aswan outburst and cliff collapse. Nature Astronomy, 1:0092 (2017).
  • Vincent et al. Constraints on cometary surface evolution derived from a statistical analysis of 67P's topography, MNRAS, (2017).
  • Barucci et al. Detection of exposed H2O ice on the nucleus of comet 67P as observed by Rosetta OSIRIS and VIRTIS instruments. A&A, 595:A102 (2016).
  • Oklay et al. Variegation of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in regions showing activity. A&A, 586:A80 (2016).
  • Oklay et al. Comparative study of water ice exposures on cometary nuclei using multi spectral imaging data. MNRAS, 462:S394-S414 (2016).
  • Vincent et al. Are fractured cliffs the source of cometary dust jets? Insights from OSIRIS/Rosetta at 67P. A&A, 587:A14 (2016).
  • Vincent et al. Summer fireworks on comet 67P. MNRAS, 462:S184-S194 (2016).
  • Masoumzadeh et al. Photometric analysis of Asteroid (21) Lutetia from Rosetta-OSIRIS images. Icarus, 257:239-250 (2015).
  • Vincent et al. Large heterogeneities in comet 67P as revealed by active pits from sinkhole collapse. Nature, 523:63-66 (2015).
  • Vincent et al. Crater depth-to-diameter distribution and surface properties of (4) Vesta. PSS, 103:57-65 (2014).
  • Vincent et al. Physical properties of craters on asteroid (21) Lutetia. PSS, 66:79-86 (2012).