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  • Writer's pictureLeah Sacks

Exploring the Small Body Mapping Tool!

This week for my blog, I thought I’d do another research related post. While my research is primarily going to be working with ArcGIS for the next couple of months, I was intrigued by a recent abstract I read that referred to the Small Body Mapping Tool (SBMT). I was curious what the capabilities and functionality of this tool were and whether or not it would potentially be useful to me, either for my research or for future use. So I decided to spend part of a day messing around with it, watching their introduction videos, and then letting you all know how it went. So here is my book-report-style review. I will cover not just how to use it, but an overall review of the tool. Although, I wouldn’t claim this is comprehensive, so take it all with a grain of salt.

Easy Start

One of my first thoughts about the SBMT was that the website is very easy to navigate and makes it very clear what to do. There was a very clear link telling me to click here to get the manual and another set of buttons telling me to click to download the tool, with a different button depending on which system I had.

When I clicked and downloaded and then followed up by clicking on the downloaded package, the tool very easily installed itself in my Applications folder. I didn’t have to move it there, or tell it where to install, or activate anything separately. Very nice for a planetary tool downloaded from the internet.


I followed up the download by watching their “Getting Started with the Small Body Mapping Tool” video on the website. The video was informative, though the installation portion of the video is a little out of date for Mac, because I did not have to follow the extra step telling you how to run the tool, I simply clicked on the application shortcut in the folder that was installed in my Applications folder.


The tool is intuitive and straight forward. It starts on a default body and allows you to select a different one from a menu at the top (BODY). Under this drop down, you can also select different shape models for the same body. For bodies that are more developed in the software, you can select a camera or instrument and search for data, which then appears on top of the shape model. You can draw structures on the model, add images to the model, and freely rotate the model. The tool also allows you to interact with other types of data such as spectral data and elevation data, just in different ways.


The “structures” tab of the tool allows you to draw lines, eclipses, polygons, circles, and points on the shape model. The structures can be modified, color coded, labeled, and tied to specific sources, all before being exported for use in other programs. There is also a button that allows for the import of an ESRI shape file into the structures tab.

Custom Data

The custom data tab allows you to bring in custom images (stretched/processed/etc.) that are not in the pool of images already available. Right now, PNG and JPG images can be imported, and it requires only information about the projection, and two corner coordinates of the image. As a note you are also able to import your own shape model if you want.

Other Tabs

Tracks and Regional DTMs are two other tabs, useful for specific tasks, but not pertinent to my work.

My Work

For my purposes, I largely have to make use of the Custom Data tab and the Structures Tabs. The instruments with data for my work has not been incorporated into the SBMT, so I have to import any images I want to use. This has primarily only posed a problem in that I have to convert my images to PNGs or JPGs and that I have to find the coordinates of their corners. But with this extra little bit of work, it becomes easy to map in the round, as it were. I can draw lines on the images without having to consistently reproject the image. Here are some examples of testing things. The first is an example of an existing dataset in the tool, while the second is an example of loading in custom data and then drawing on structures.


I had a great time exploring the SBMT and I think it will be particularly useful for the bodies it is intended for. I like its functionality and I think that the designers have done a good job of narrowing its functions down to the tools actually used by geologic mappers while keeping it flexible to be used for things a little outside its intentions. Overall, I would definitely recommend taking a look if your area of interest has been included in the SBMT.

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