I've been doing more work on the terrain engine I described in my last post, which I'm now calling "seamless." It now works pretty well on a global scale.
There's still lots of work to do, especially on optimization at the OpenGL level, but I'm quite pleased, especially with how easy it is to get the height and image data out of osgEarth.
I encountered an interesting issue with the Quadrilateralized Spherical Cube that I was planning to use. I did find a good formal reference to the math behind the projection at this site. It turns out that the COBE satellite didn't use the QSC projection, but a slightly simpler one. Anyway, the seamless terrain algorithm requires a good estimate of the edge length of a patch on the grid and also a calculation of the minimum distance from the eye point to the edge. These are both difficult to calculate with the QSC projection, in part because the projection is not differentiable on the diagonals of the cube faces. I came up with another projection in which the grid lines are all great circles on the sphere:
I'm calling this projection an "Euler projection" by analogy to one class of Euler angles in which a rotation is measured with respect to fixed axes. For the equatorial cube faces, the vertical grid lines are the same as meridians of longitude, but the "latitude" is measured perpendicular to the horizontal axis, not in the longitudinal plane. The fact that the grid lines are now all segments of great circles makes the math almost trivially easy.
Now, we're not displaying a sphere (unlike some programs :) but an ellipsoid, so this measure will break down as we get close to the earth, but I'm prepared to hack that problem away.
The source to the seamless engine is available from this Git repository. Compilation requires osgEarth and Open Scene Graph from SVN and the whole thing is still a bit raw.