Space enthusiasts, grab your Android phones and tablets, because we've rolled out a major overhaul to Satellite AR, our augmented reality application that shows you where spacecraft are in the sky above you. A lot of things have changed since our initial release last November
, and I've tried to take a lot of people's suggestions and make them real. Let's take a look.
The main menu of Satellite AR has a sleek new look that flows well on small phones and large tablets alike. There's new functionality here, too. The old "Geostationary belt" button has been replaced by an "All active sats" button, which does show the GEO belt, but with inactive satellites weeded out of it, and active LEO (low-Earth orbit) satellites and other active spacecraft added into the mix instead. There's also a new search button to look for a particular satellite or a constellation of satellites by name. For example, if you are looking for the DirecTV™ satellites or Echostar (carriers of Dish Network™) satellites, you would enter "Direc" or "Echost" into the search box, and real-time search suggestions begin to appear in response to your search.
The app's settings page has some new tricks as well. By default, Satellite AR now uses your "coarse" location, typically the location of the nearest cellphone tower, instead of the GPS receiver, but this is configurable. You can switch on the GPS receiver here to get more accurate results. Alternately, you can turn off location tracking entirely, and select "Manual location..." to select the city nearest you as your location. If you select too distant a city, the satellites shown won't line up with what's actually above you, so you should look for one that is no more than a couple miles (or a few kilometers) away. Using coarse or manual locations, instead of GPS, is also one way to protect your privacy, because the selected location must be sent over the network for the server to run its satellite visibility calculations.
The sky view in the app shows satellites with small icons (full legend here
). It has a pinch-zoom feature now, to get a closer view of an area of interest in the sky. You can touch any satellite to look for more detailed information about the spacecraft. Recently we added the ability to plot one orbit as a ground track on Google Maps (this works better for LEOs than for GEO sats, as the latter tend to have a tiny figure-8 loop on part of the equator as their entire ground track). We're continuing to add additional sources of information to this web page, and refine what's already there.
For sky watchers, I've added more detail to the about page "usage tips"
to give better advice on how to pick a time at night to attempt to actually spot a satellite. It's tricky, but it can be done for certain categories of satellites, particularly the "Potentially visible objects" category, and the International Space Station.
Check out the new features and let us know what you think!