This module was created to visualize satellites in earth orbit. The precise position of each satellite above the Earth is rendered according to the date & time. The Two-Line Element set (TLE) file format is a standard for defining satellite orbital mechanics. It contains all of the necessary Keplerian elements to define an orbital path. When running the satellites module, OpenSpace reads all of the provided TLE files and generates a renderable for each entry.

How to Run the Satellites Module

OpenSpace uses the openspace.cfg file for general configuration. Among this file’s variables is Asset, which defines the base asset (formerly scene) to use for rendering: Asset = "default". To include satellites visualization in the default asset, open data/assets/default.scene and add the following line (or un-comment it if already present): asset.request('scene/solarsystem/planets/earth/satellites/satellites')

Double-click bin/Release/OpenSpace.exe to run using the openspace.cfg configuration, or run from a terminal. There will be a number of log messages for the individual satellites that appear while the scene is loading. Once loaded, Earth will be the camera’s focus and the satellites and their orbital trails will be visible. A comprehensive list of all satellites can be viewed by pressing F2 and then in the “Properties” browser select Solar System -> Planets -> Earth -> Satellites, which will provide a list for each renderable. All satellite renderables have a name that begins with the file containing its TLE file entry. For example, if a satellite’s TLE information is contained in the file stations.txt, then its renderable name will have a stations_ prefix. Each satellite will also have a trail renderable, with a _trail suffix in the name. Rendering controls for each satellite are available in the dialog box, including enabling/disabling visibility, color control, etc. From the OpenSpace GUI dialog box (press F2) it is possible to change the camera’s origin from Earth to any of the satellites in the list.


OpenSpace features like regular expressions and keyboard bindings can be used to automate control of satellite layers. Keyboard bindings can be added to an individual scene. For example, in the preInitialization function of the file default.scene, the following bindkey command can be added:

    openspace.bindKey("p", "openspace.setPropertyValue(
                    'stations_*.renderable.Enabled', false)",
                    "Disable stations visibility")

The * wildcard will apply the command to all renderables that meet the stations_* criteria in this case. Regular expression syntax can also be used. When running OpenSpace, press p to make all station satellites invisible. Specific commands can also be entered in the terminal at runtime, without pre-configuring a scene file. Press ` to get a terminal at the top of the window, and type: openspace.setPropertyValue('stations_*.renderable.Enabled', true), and then all satellites from the stations.txt TLE file will become visible again.

Customizing the Satellites Module

When OpenSpace starts the satellites module, it tries to download .tle files that are specified in the data/assets/scene/solarsystem/planets/earth/satellites/satellites.asset file. At the top of this file, satelliteGroups contains a dictionary entry for each .tle file to be included in the visualization. Each file has a title for its description, a url for where to download the latest .tle file, and a trailColor. Further down in this file, the UrlSynchronization type is used to tell OpenSpace to download a copy from the URL specified (this is done for best orbital accuracy, since some satellite positions are updated often). After downloading, OpenSpace will open each file and read all of the satellite entries that it contains (two lines for each satellite TLE entry). For each TLE entry, OpenSpace computes the current orbital position and generates a renderable object. If a large number of satellites are listed, then the initialization time as well as the rendering performance may be negatively impacted. The default renderable image for each satellite is a simple white circle satB.png which is obtained from the server using the identifier tle_satellites_images. Another image file can be substituted for this if desired.