Through decades of space travel, the placement of satellite systems, the construction of space stations, the sending out of measuring devices and, last but not least, the military and private use of the earth's orbit, a fairly large network of man-made objects has accumulated around the earth. According to some sources, there are already over 500.000 - from small pieces of debris to disused satellites and rocket stages to active satellites and measuring tools. Keeping track of things is not so easy – on the interactive AstriaGraph website but an attempt is made.
AstriaGraph - University of Texas project uses big data for Earth orbit display
The interactive website for observing objects in Earth orbit and calculating possible collisions (or other interactions) was created by the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics at the University of Texas under the direction of Professor Dr. Moriba Jah. General information about the faculty, its research and the individual projects can be found with this link.
A wide variety of data sources are used for AstriaGraph, whose information about objects in Earth orbit is summarized and made available in graphical form. The areas of big data and analysis are thus combined to enable scientific and publicly accessible observation of the earth's orbit. Data sources for the project include: USSPACECOM, Planet, JSC Vimpel and SeeSat-L.
This is how you can use the AstriaGraph web tool
On the website linked at the beginning, with the interactive AstriaGraph tool, the largest part of the screen is taken up by the globe with the points arranged around it. Depending on the color, the dots have different meanings: orange indicates active satellites or other active structures, such as the ISS; Blue indicates inactive satellites; Purple indicates rocket levels; Gray indicates debris; Pink indicates uncategorized space debris.
For a better overview, the purple and gray dots can also be deactivated. But if you activate their display, you can see how littered the space around planet Earth actually is. In addition to the near-Earth orbits, which can be seen in the standard view, a slightly zoomed-out view is also worthwhile. In the following screenshots you can see the earth covered by gray and differently colored dots and a huge accumulation of active and inactive satellites and space debris around it.
In a search and menu mask on the left of the page you can also search for specific points and / or determine the data source, the construction, the country of origin or the orbit. In the latter menu, the Low Earth Orbit (LEO), the Medium Earth Orbit (MEO), the "stationary" orbit (GSO / GEO) synchronized with the Earth's rotation and the High Earth Orbit (HEO) are available.
By searching for or selecting specific points on the interactive 3D map, the relevant information is called up and displayed in a table on the right. Furthermore, the orbit around the earth is highlighted. The rows of very close orange dots are noticeable everywhere on the map - by the way, these are the Starlink satellites from SpaceX. They will probably be similar Project Kuiper-Satellites from Amazon from 2024 look.
Set speed to understand trajectories
Only from a certain zoom level does it become clear when using AstriaGraph that the individual points move in real time. The current UTC time is displayed at the bottom left. However, there are a few nondescript buttons surrounding this time display that you can use to make the animation even more extensive. You can use the square areas below to run the animation backwards (left), stop it (middle) or play it back to normal (right).
The border of the time display also serves as an interactive button. If you click to the left of the time display, the animation will slow down. The limit here is 0,001 times the real-time speed. If you click further to the left, then the whole thing goes into the minus area and you accelerate the animation running backwards. This is also made clear by the fact that the left square below the time display is highlighted in color.
However, if you click to the right of the time display, you can speed up the animation. This is very impressive above a certain speed, since all points move in their own orbits around the earth. It is amazing that collisions do not occur everywhere and that not all satellites have already been pulverized. At least that's how it feels when watching the animated map.
Theoretically, accelerations of up to 604.800x are possible, but the animation stops after the timeline displayed at the bottom has expired. For me, 300x to 600x worked well for the overall view. However, movements can already be seen from 5x in the standard zoom level. If you zoom in close to a certain near-Earth object, you will also see a movement in real time (1x).
After graduating from high school, Johannes completed an apprenticeship as a business assistant specializing in foreign languages. But then he decided to research and write, which resulted in his independence. For several years he has been working for Sir Apfelot, among others. His articles include product introductions, news, manuals, video games, consoles, and more. He follows Apple keynotes live via stream.
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