Two favourite visualisations of satellites orbiting earth

1. From Quartz, an interactive graphic of every active satellite orbiting earth – all 1200 of them (as at August 2014).

The graphic’s based on data from the Union of Concerned Scientists, and lets you filter by age of satellite, launch country, purpose or primary user. You can also animate the satellites into their orbits, and see which are in low, medium or high orbit.

Satellites in Low Earth Orbit

Satellites in Medium Earth Orbit

Hover over any of the dots and you’ll see a summary of the satellite’s owners, age, characteristics and purpose.

Lacrosse-Onyx Inset

Interesting facts from the piece (and elsewhere) include:

2. Over at you can see satellites using Google Earth, which taps databases from the US Space Intelligence Office (SIO), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) (which is due to launch a new deep space climate observatory in January 2015), US Navy (due to launch a new satellite in January 2015) and others.

You start with an overview like this:

Satellites Google Earth Full

Use Google Earth’s controls to rotate the earth and zoom in to see satellites over a particular country at a particular time. In this case, New Zealand:

Satellites Over NZ

Click on any satellite to see its owners, age, characteristics and purpose.

RapidEye 3 Satellite Inset

Fascinating, no?

If you’re interested in New Zealand participation in commercial and other space activities, you might want to check out the Kiwi Space Foundation website, which is an unfinished beast but seems to be keeping track of main players and media reports.

Also, RocketLab, founded by New Zealander Peter Beck, which plans to kick off its Electron “small, fast, & agile” satellite launch system in 2015.

4D printing on Earth, 3D printing in Space

4D printing on Earth

Wow. “Scientists at Harvard, Pittsburgh and Illinois are developing materials that will “exhibit behavior that changes over time,” writes Quartz.

At the most basic level, the object simply change shape over time, as outlined by MIT’s Skylar Tibbits. Along with Stratasys, a leading maker of 3D printers, he is experimenting with materials that can assemble themselves once they’re printed out. All it takes is some energy-providing external stimulus such as water, heat or movement.

In the future, that could mean water pipes that don’t break in the winter, self-repairing machines or even furniture that assembles itself.

Here’s Skylar Tibbits giving a TED talk on 4D printing. (Runs 8:23)


3D printing in Space

Nasa is preparing to launch a 3D printer into space next year, “a toaster-sized game changer that greatly reduces the need for astronauts to load up with every tool, spare part or supply they might ever need,” writes Phys.Org.

“Any time we realize we can 3-D print something in space, it’s like Christmas,” said inventor Andrew Filo, who is consulting with NASA on the project. “You can get rid of concepts like rationing, scarce or irreplaceable.”

The spools of plastic could eventually replace racks of extra instruments and hardware, although the upcoming mission is just a demonstration printing job.

    Read more at:

18 supercool objects made with 3D printers

Reseller News has some images of 3D printed objects that were on display at the Inside 3D Printing Conference and Expo in San Jose, including this cordless drill.

3D printed cordless drill






Delivering food, internet and clean-up in Space (2013)

Space debris removal

Your future ultra-fast internet connection just launched into space | Quartz

Elon Musk’s commercial space company, SpaceX, has just launched a Falcon 9 rocket into orbit carrying a Canadian Space Agency satellite, CASSIOPE. Part of the satellite’s payload is Cascade, a prototype for a super-fast space-borne file-transfer system—a kind of digital courier service.

Nasa‘s newest delivery service pulled up at the International Space Station on Sunday after a week’s delay, bringing more than a half-ton of meals and special treats to the astronauts who assisted in the high-flying feat. With the smooth linkup, Orbital Sciences Corporation became only the second company to accomplish such a far-flung shipment. H/T Quartz

Cleaning up Earth’s orbit: A Swiss satellite tackles space debris | EFPL

The proliferation of debris orbiting the Earth – primarily jettisoned rocket and satellite components – is an increasingly pressing problem for spacecraft, and it can generate huge costs. To combat this scourge, the Swiss Space Center at EPFL is aims to launch CleanSpace One, a project to develop and build the first installment of a family of satellites specially designed to clean up space debris.




World’s cutest talking robot ready for space launch (2013)



This is Kirobo. A 34cm-tall talking robot… and an astronaut. Kirobo’s hitching a ride to the International Space Station this weekend (August 4) with a Japanese cargo transporter called the KOUNOTORI4. He’s going to chill for a month or so until Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata arrives on the ISS in November for Expedition 38 and Expedition 39. Then they’ll be doing the first astronaut-robot communication studies in space. Kirobo was created by the Kobi Robot Project to study human-robot interaction.

Worth watching this slightly nutty video about the mission. “It carries hope on its small shoulders.”

Spot the Station lets you know when the International Space Station is visible overhead


I’m subscribed to NASA’s Spot the Station alerts – which tell me when the International Space Station is going to be visible overhead in my part of the world. Kinda love the idea of knowing where things are. You can subscribe for an alert here. Here’s what it looked like on July 29, 2013 for New Zealand (and how to interpret the details).

Time: Mon Jul 29 6:08 PM, Visible: 6 min, Max Height: 47 degrees, Appears: SW, Disappears: ENE