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Real-Time Space Shuttle in Google Earth (Beta Version)
Google Earth space shuttle short ascent preview

A 3D model of the space shuttle ascends in Google Earth.

› STS-135 Ascent Replay for Google Earth
› STS-135 Entry Replay for Google Earth

You can now track the space shuttle during launch and landing in Google Earth using real-time data from Mission Control.

You will need Google Earth to use this file. Don’t have Google Earth? Download it here.

After you have installed Google Earth, download the live groundtrack file here or a replay of the STS-135 ascent.

You will be prompted to save/open the file. Select the "Open" option, and the file will automatically open in Google Earth, if you have it installed.

Using live shuttle data, a 3D model of NASA’s space shuttle is plotted in Google Earth to show its current position and trajectory.

Google Earth displays the world in 3D with satellite imagery, and you can also visualize geospatial data. The space shuttle trajectory - the path that the vehicle flies - is shown as a yellow line. It represents the path that the shuttle has flown so far. Mission events are shown as colored dots on the yellow line when and where they occurred. Examples of mission events include:
  • Solid Rocket Booster Separation
  • Main Engine Cut-Off (MECO)
  • External Tank Separation
  • Speed milestones
  • Altitude milestones
  • Landing events
There are two viewing options: Auto-Follow (default) and Manual Control.

Auto-Follow will automatically move with the space shuttle as it launches/lands. During the dynamic launch and entry phases of flight, normally the view is set to a Chase View or Low View. This is the default option. This is recommended for passively monitoring the launch/landing ("set it and forget it") or if you are not familiar with navigating in Google Earth.

Manual Control lets the user control the view within Google Earth. It will not automatically follow the Space Shuttle. This enables users that are already comfortable with Google Earth's navigation controls to pan and zoom to whatever view they desire.

If you click on the colored dots along the trajectory, a balloon will open to display information about the shuttle's flight at that point in the trajectory.

› Short Ascent Preview | › Long Ascent Preview | › Entry Preview
Previews require Google Earth. Download it here.

Google Earth space shuttle long ascent preview

A 3D model of the space shuttle ascends in Google Earth.

› Preview it in Google Earth


Common Problems:

  • I can’t find the space shuttle on the map.
    • Answer: Check if you have selected Auto-Follow or Manual Mode. If you are currently in Auto-Follow mode, Google Earth will automatically zoom to the shuttle. If you are in Manual Mode, you can double click "Manual Control" in the Places pane, and it will bring you to the current position of the orbiter.
  • The shuttle is not moving (not updating).
    • Answer:
      1. Check your internet connection.
      2. Check the folder icon ("Auto-Follow" or "Manual Control").
        • If you see a green circle in front of the folder, you have the most up-to-date data.
        • If you see a yellow circle in front of the folder, it is currently refreshing its data.
        • If you see a red circle, it means that it has encountered an error. This error may have come from:
          • Lost internet connection
          • Network problems
          • Error in the KML file
      3. Common solution:
        • Right-click on either Manual Control or Auto-Follow, and click "Refresh" from the dropdown menu.
  • How does it work?
    • Answer: As the space shuttle flies, it sends down data to NASA’s Mission Control Center to ground stations and the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System (TDRSS) to keep flight controllers updated on the space craft's systems. A subset of this data is processed and published as a KML file which is readable by Google Earth.
  • How old is the data before I see it on my computer?
    • Answer: Typically, the data is 5-10 seconds behind real time. This means it will take a few seconds before it will reach your computer.
  • I want to control the view.
    • Answer: Select the Manual Control option in the Places pane on the left side of the screen in Google Earth.
  • I am not comfortable navigating in Google Earth.
    • You can let Google Earth automatically follow the Space Shuttle as it flies. Select the “Auto-Follow” option in the Places pane on the left side of the screen.
    • When I click on the colored markers to read the balloon, it closes after a few seconds.
      • Answer: Whenever Google Earth refreshes to get the latest data, it automatically closes all balloons. Unfortunately, this is a known issue with the KML language, and there is no way to prevent your balloon from closing.
    • What is a Mach number?
    • Google Earth space shuttle entry preview

      A 3D model of the space shuttle approaches the runway in Google Earth.

      › Preview it in Google Earth

      • Answer: The Mach number represents the ratio between the speed of the airflow encountering a vehicle and the speed of sound. For this display, we approximate the speed of sound at sea level conditions as 1,000 feet per second. To compute a pseudo-Mach number, we simply divide the vehicle speed in feet/second by 1,000 feet/second to yield the pseudo Mach number. For example, if the vehicle is flying at 17,800 feet/second, we would say the vehicle is flying at Mach 17.8. However, this is simply an approximation to the true Mach number which varies as a function of altitude.
    • The shuttle orientation isn’t accurate.
      • Answer: During orbit operations, the 3D model of the orbiter is aligned with the velocity direction, to help show the direction that the vehicle is heading. During launch and entry, the shuttle’s true orientation is shown with the 3D model. This lets you watch the orbiter "roll to heads up" during ascent and perform roll reversals during entry.
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