Home > News > Satellite Collision Debris Tracking in the Google Earth Plug-in

Satellite Collision Debris Tracking in the Google Earth Plug-in

February 23rd, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Live Satellite Debris TrackerFollowing on from my visualization of the satellite collision over Siberia on February 10th involving Iridium 33 and Cosmos 2251, here’s an Google Earth browser plugin based tracker for the debris from the crash.

Full screen version here: http://barnabu.co.uk/geapi/debris

The application loads up to date Norad orbital elements on start up, and propogates the orbits of all 134 fragments smoothly in real time.

Remarkably the Google Earth API is powerful enough to move placemarks thousands of times a second to give the impression of completely smooth motion for hundreds of objects. On top of that modern browsers are fast enough to run all the Math heavy orbital computation in Javascript. So this is really-real-time tracking, not with delayed updates. Something that can’t be done in regular Google Earth.

I’m guessing the number of objects could increase over time as more wreckage is discovered. If that’s the case, just have to see how well it scales.

  1. February 23rd, 2009 at 20:20 | #1

    WOW.. how do you do it so fast? I am really impressed by the smoothness of it all. When I tried I could not get it to work like this. Are you using a networklink to call a service or are you just pre-computing the orbit and refreshing it once in a while?
    Great work indeed.

  2. James
    February 24th, 2009 at 14:39 | #2

    Thanks Alberto,
    I’ve been working on the code for a while. Was planning a tie in with STS-119, but this cropped up. Everything Google Earth is white hot news at the moment so I figure it’s better to push stuff out quickly than sit on it!
    It’s a 100% Javascript two-line element player. No backend.

    – Pulls in the latest TLE set for the debris (from Celestrak) when the user goes to the page.
    – During runtime it computes locations from the TLE parameters every couple of seconds with the SGP4 algorithm.
    – Interpolates to get the smooth motion. Moving the placemarks with the Earth API methods.


  3. February 28th, 2009 at 18:50 | #3

    Where can we get the orbital elements for USA193?
    I have been monitoring gamma ray events and have some data plots that need to be correlated.–pf

  4. James
    March 1st, 2009 at 19:15 | #4

    @Peter – I don’t know of any apart from the amateur stuff on the Seesat mailing list. It was all classified wasn’t it ?

  5. steve fitzgerald
    May 30th, 2009 at 15:34 | #5


    Thanks you for taking the time to create this simulation. It is the best representation I have seen. Any chance you could explain how I might be able to integrate the Iridium constellation’s TLE’s directly into this simulation? Then we could see how the Iridium constellation interacts with the debris field?

    Thanks for all your work. It is appreciated.


  1. March 1st, 2009 at 16:03 | #1
  2. March 12th, 2009 at 02:34 | #2
  3. March 12th, 2009 at 03:32 | #3