Archives For Satellite Tracking

I have a bunch of satellite tracking scripts for Google Earth  and Twitter, and the recent Space Shuttle launch prompted a lot of enquires about tracking Atlantis in orbit. So here is a Google Earth KMZ file for doing just that: Google Earth STS-135 tracker for Space Shuttle Atlantis.

Satellite Tracking on Google Earth [UPDATE]

Tuesday February 10th saw the accidental collision of an operational, and privately owned communications satellite (Iridium 33) and an old, unused Russian satellite (Cosmos-2251). Celestrak are now providing tracking data for the debris of this collision and I have patched it through to Google Earth using my Satellite KML code. You can download the Google Earth file here to follow events in real time.

The crash, which happened over 400 miles above Siberia, destroyed the derelict Russian satellite and one of the 66 objects that make up the Iridium mesh, or constellation. The constellation provides voice and data connections for satellite phones as well as other services. It has around 300,000 clients across the globe, including the US Department of Defense and scientists at the South Pole. Iridium services have now been restored and company was in fact prepared for this scenario, even if they were not expecting it.



You can see from these screenshots, taken this morning, that the two sets of debris (Iridium in white, Russian in red) are still more-or-less following their original orbits. Celestrak is providing data for the radar-trackable particles, and smaller fragments do not show up here. The pieces of debris have begun to drift apart and will eventually begin to spread out and move more eccentrically as the weeks go by.

I had been meaning to organise my ‘Satellites on Google Earth’ code, and have been prompted by these events to create a summary page which you can find linked at the top of the page or by clicking here.

Continuing my series of posts regarding Google Sky and Google Earth, here is a KMZ file that will let you find some of the prominent and interesting space telescopes and satellites on Google Earth. This file includes real-time position tracking and 1 hour flight paths for:

  • Swift Gamma Ray Mission (NASA)
  • RoSat (NASA, UK, Germany)
  • CoRoT (CNES, ESA)
  • GalEx (NASA)
  • IRAS (NASA, UK, Netherlands)
  • Envisat (ESA)
  • Hubble Space Telescope (NASA, ESA)
  • International Space Station (Many)

This KMZ file splits down into several separate files so you can chose to select or deselect any and all of the above objects. Clicking on the satellite or telescope’s icon brings up information about that object with links to more information. Screenshots below for those who like that sort of thing.





To see more Google Earth satellite files check out the general Satellites on Google Earth post and the Chinese Space Debris post. As always, suggestions are welcomed in the comments section. For example, I had created a time-slider dependent satellite tracker but it just ended up being really annoying. Would that be something people would want? Also, as mentioned in a previous comment, I am in the process of creating a tracker that uses a Sketchup model instead of an icon. All thoughts welcome, have fun playing with these.

I was presenting this week’s Astrolunch talk at university. I chose to discuss space debris, and this included a quick overview of the Chinese missile test last year, which create a huge cloud of fragmented debris, much of which is still orbiting the Earth. In January 2007, China launched a surface-to-orbit missile that destroyed a satellite named Fengyun 1C. The act was internationally condemned, though of course no one really punished them.

You can see the debris in this screenshot. Each little Chinese flag is a piece of the satellite that remains in orbit.


If you want to track this debris yourself, you can do so in Google Earth using this handy KMZ file that I’ve created. It uses the same code as my previous efforts for tracking the ISS on Google Earth and tracking satellites on Google Earth in general.


Also, if you’re interested in the talk I gave, you can download the PDF of ‘Space Debris’.

I wonder if this post will be visible through the Great Firewall of China?

UPDATE: The data used for this Google Earth feed comes directly from NORAD, who provide tracking data for most satellites and other orbiting bodies. I should stress that this only shows the trackable debris. This is only  a percentage of what is up there. Some objects are too small to be tracked by radar and so do not appear.

I have updated and fixed the files for tracking satellites and the ISS on Google Earth. You are no longer offered driving directions to the satellites either.

Satellites on Google Earth

February 25, 2008 — 2 Comments

UPDATE: New Google Earth tracking files for Space Telescopes are now up.

Hot on the heels of putting all the SCUBA data onto Google Sky, I am now sharing some Google Earth goodies. The KML files below will allow you to view the location of any satellite on Google Earth with latitude, longitude and altitude positions updated every 30 seconds.


These Google Earth overlays use the NORAD two-line element (TLE) datasets that are published via the Celestrak website and are used by satellite enthusiasts the world over. I could not find them for Google Earth so have made them available myself.

There are three files that can be downloaded:

1) ISS Locator – A simple file that just tracks the position of the most popular and asked after satellite, the manned International Space Station. Shows the next 2 hours of flight path and the approximate size of the viewing horizon of the ISS (i.e. the area of the Earth’s surface for which the ISS is potentially visible).

2) 100 Brightest Objects – This file uses Celestrak’s 100 or so brightest objects TLE file to show the locations on Google Earth of between 100-200 of the better known and easier to spot satellites.

3) Advanced Tracker – By default this KML file tracks the ISS from the 100 file above. However it allows you to change the source TLE and satellite ID to any that you like, thus making it the first Google Earth addition that allows you to track any satellite at all! Instructions are found in the file by clicking its name in Google Earth. This layer also shows the viewing horizon and 2 hour flight path.


Download ISS Locator, 100 Brightest Objects and Advanced Tracker.

Download All three files together in a zipped archive.