Improving the visualization of GEO Satellite Orbits

Satellites in geosynchronous orbits have a wide variety of uses. Most of these satellites are used for communication for radio and television networks or for direct broadcasting. Others are used for weather imagery, such as NASA’s GOES satellites. Regardless of their specific use, these satellites are essential for information in our day to day lives. That’s why it is important to be able to properly configure the graphics of these orbits to display the most useful information possible.

Inserting a geostationary satellite into STK and zooming out in the 3D Graphics window to see the orbit will look something like the picture below.

This view gives very little useful information about the orbit. Instead, there are a few changes that you can make to drastically improve the visualization of this orbit. The best tool for this is the “Geostationary Box” option found in the 3D Graphics- Proximity page of a satellite’s properties. This option displays a geostationary box as a planar rectangle centered at a fixed longitude. The box’s size and color can be changed. Additionally, changing the satellite’s Orbit System to “Fixed by Window” instead of “Inertial by Window” and removing the satellite’s lead track while adding a trail track will add to the visualization of your satellite.

As seen above, this geostationary box with the described graphical changes is an excellent way to track a geostationary satellite’s drift. If you would like to replicate this box in the free version of STK, there is an FAQ that shows how to do that by adding a dummy facility and creating a new plane to act as the geostationary box. If you would rather use MATLAB for this, there is even a geostationary satellite visualizer helper script that will do all the work for you. This script requires the STK Integration and Analysis Workbench licenses.

There is an increasing amount of satellites put into orbit every year, so it is crucial that geostationary satellite operators keep these satellites from interfering with one another. With this improved visualization of your geostationary satellite, you can now perform further analysis inside STK or even set up a geostationary station keeping scenario like the one done in this training. Regardless of the goal of your analysis, STK is able to help.

Systems Tool Kit (STK)

Modeling and simulation software for digital mission engineering and systems analysis.