Visualize Everything Orbiting the Earth in Real Time

Space is more crowded than you think.

Gazing up at the night sky, it’s easy to think that that the darkness between the stars and planets is just empty space. What we forget is that there’s a massive amount of space junk out there, and a lot of it is ours. To make it easier to visualize all of our celestial crap, James Yoder, an 18-year-old electrical and computer engineering student, designed a real-time 3D map of objects floating around the Earth, aptly and almost poetically named Stuff in Space.

Stuff in Space uses up-to-the-minute orbit data from the US Department of Defense’s Space Track program and Satellite Javascript Library to calculate the positions of satellites and predict how they’ll move in the next 24 hours. According to NASA, over 500,000 pieces of space junk are floating around the Earth. Some of these projectiles, like meteoroids and other space rocks, occur naturally, but the bulk of the floating flotsam is manmade.

Human space junk includes pretty much everything we discard: broken spacecraft, segments of launch vehicles, and fragmented debris. We’ve also dumped some weird stuff out there, like the spatulas, pliers, or pee crystals.

Stuff in Space lets you track 150,000 of those objects — at least the ones bigger than a softball — and click on individual pieces of junk to learn their classification (debris, rocket body, satellite, or “payload”) as well as name, altitude, velocity, and other details. Filters allow for extremely specific sorting. Check out, for instance, the results of the Iridium 33 Collision.

Many of these objects are traveling at up to 17,500 mph, making space crashes particularly dangerous. NASA reports that something as tiny as a paint fleck can damage spacecraft when traveling at such high speeds. In addition to indulging his interest in 3D graphics programming and WebGL in the coolest way possible, Yoder designed Stuff in Space to raise awareness about space flight safety and protection of the space environment.

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