This software visualizes orbit paths for the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO), but was designed to be general and applicable to any Earth-observing mission. The software uses the Google Earth user interface to provide a visual mechanism to explore spacecraft orbit paths, ground footprint locations, and local cloud cover conditions. In addition, a drill-down capability allows for users to point and click on a particular observation frame to pop up ancillary information such as data product filenames and directory paths, latitude, longitude, time stamp, column-average dry air mole fraction of carbon dioxide, and solar zenith angle.

This software can be integrated with the ground data system for any Earth-observing mission to automatically generate daily orbit path data products in Google Earth KML format. These KML data products can be directly loaded into the Google Earth application for interactive 3D visualization of the orbit paths for each mission day. Each time the application runs, the daily orbit paths are encapsulated in a KML file for each mission day since the last time the application ran. Alternatively, the daily KML for a specified mission day may be generated.

The application automatically extracts the spacecraft position and ground footprint geometry as a function of time from a daily Level 1B data product created and archived by the mission’s ground data system software. In addition, ancillary data, such as the column-averaged dry air mole fraction of carbon dioxide and solar zenith angle, are automatically extracted from a Level 2 mission data product. Zoom, pan, and rotate capability are provided through the standard Google Earth interface. Cloud cover is indicated with an image layer from the MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) aboard the Aqua satellite, which is automatically retrieved from JPL’s OnEarth Web service.

This work was done by Joseph C. Jacob, Lucian Plesea, Brian G. Chafin, and Barry H. Weiss of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

This software is available for commercial licensing. Please contact Daniel Broderick of the California Institute of Technology at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Refer to NPO-47316.

This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).
3D Orbit Visualization for Earth-Observing Missions

(reference NPO-47316) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

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This article first appeared in the May, 2011 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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