In January 2007, the Chinese military decided to demonstrate their technological prowess by shooting down one of their own satellites in orbit. The action was condemned by governments around the world, but many people may not have realized the real consequence. The Earth’s orbit is getting very cluttered with satellites and debris after 50 years of launches from Earth. But, this one decision to explode a satellite in space contributed thousands of potentially deadly projectiles (golf ball sized or larger) into many orbits around the Earth. Each object in orbit is typically flying around the Earth at 17,500 miles per hour (27,400 km/h). The European Space Agency recently shared a press release describing the problem of space debris including some 3D visualizations).
Robert Simpson, who writes the Orbiting Frog blog, had already developed a tool for visualizing orbit tracks in Google Earth. He recently gave a talk on space debris at Cardiff University. Using the orbit tracker, and the data available on all objects tracked in space at Celestrack, he was able to create this visualization showing the positions of all the tracked objects from the destroyed Chinese satellite in Google Earth. Each placemark is a Chinese flag showing the position of tracked debris from that one explosion. This is a network link which will automatically update every 5 minutes with the current position of each object. Read Robert’s post for more details and you can get a copy of his presentation.