Space Debris Viewed in Google Earth

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).
Debris from Chinese Satellite Destruction in Google EarthRobert 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.

About Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor started the Google Earth Blog in July, 2005 shortly after Google Earth was first released. He has worked with 3D computer graphics and VR for many years and was very impressed with this exciting product. Frank completed a 5.5 year circumnavigation of the earth by sailboat in June 2015 which you can read about at Tahina Expedition, and is a licensed pilot, backpacker, diver, and photographer.


  1. Ut oh, sounds like your stepping on AGI STK demo territory.

  2. I hope China is held accountable for the pollution.

  3. Thanks, any info on the debris produced by the US satellite shot by US Navy recently?

  4. Stuart Goldman says:

    The debris from the US satellite fell to Earth in a matter of days. It was going to reenter anyway — shooting the satellite just broke it into smaller pieces. The Chinese debris will be up there long time.

  5. I’m your regular reader. The beginning lines about China on this post are to me finger-pointing, not appropriate and of a bad taste, which is not your usual style I think. Why China but not any other countries that are with a longer space exploration history and probably have littered the space worse than we know? The greatest evil about the hit by China was probably that the Chinese government was too candid and did not as hypocritical as US in the latter’s recent shoot. If you need to condemn one, then maybe we should consider condemning them all.

  6. Stephen Thomason says:

    Just as we have companies collect junk here on earth the nations on Earth that created this mess need to contract a “Space Junk Collector” or better yet the persons that collect the junk should be free to sell it to anyone who wants it. Just think of all the secrets that exist in the so called “Junk”!

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