Robert Simpson is studying for his doctorate in Astronomy at Cardiff University in the UK. He has a blog called Orbiting Frog, and recently posted a tool that lets you view current positions of objects in orbit including the International Space Station, GPS satellites, Iridium satellites, and much more. He is using the NORAD two-line element (TLE) datasets that are published via the Celestrak website and are used by satellite enthusiasts for all kinds of software visualizations. He uses a Google Earth network link to automatically update the orbital positions every 30 seconds. He offers three different links for viewing in Google Earth:
ISS Locator – This file shows the position of International Space Station, it’s horizon, and a two hour orbital track so you can see what it’s passing over.
100+ Brightest Satellites – This network link shows the positions of the 100 brightest satellites. Notice how the heights of the orbits are shown as well as position.
Advanced Tracker – This network link by default shows the Hubble Space Telescope like the ISS one above. But, it lets you change the satellite ID to any other satellite (search the Celestrak database).
The last really good orbit tracking visualization for Google Earth was done by Paul Seabury – but, he took it down after he got a contract to do something similar for someone. Hopefully Robert will keep this one running for a while. Robert also recently posted a cool astronomy layer for Google Earth – which I plan to write about later.
If you like live tracking applications, check out this really cool live airline flight tracking tool from FBOWeb.