OS Partner Away Team Software have been on our blog previously, talking about their location tracking app, Trkd. Now they’re back with an out of this world adaptation…
Just before Christmas 2015, the UK was gripped by space fever as British ESA astronaut Tim Peake embarked on his six month Principia mission aboard the International Space Station (ISS) with live coverage from launch to docking. After witnessing the cheering crowds of children at London’s Science Museum, veteran cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, the first man to walk in space, said it rekindled his memories of the original human spaceflight programme from half a century ago.
By taking advantage of the intervening advances in technology, Tim has been able to engage his audience directly from space throughout his mission using digital photography, video and social media to inspire this generation and the next.
In the spirit of Principia, we decided to commemorate two of his iconic achievements in a fun and educational way by expanding our Trkd™ (pron. tracked) location tracking suite into space, which raised an important question: how do you track an astronaut?
How to track an astronaut
Thanks to the Space Race, all man-made objects orbiting Earth are routinely tracked by North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) who publish a catalogue of satellite orbit data. Plugging their parameters into orbital propagation software, we can accurately calculate the position of any tracked object to within a few metres, including Zarya, the Russian module which was the first part of the ISS to enter orbit in 1998 and which still serves as its location reference point.
Having established his basic ground track, we wanted to add more details of Tim’s activities to tell the stories of his marathon and spacewalk. Marathon runners’ split times are officially recorded for each 5km segment of the race, but we also calculated when he would have reached famous London landmarks, e.g. Cutty Sark, based on his pace and their distance along the course.
Scrutiny of NASA’s TV coverage enabled us to construct a narrative of the key spacewalk events, including the astronauts’ tasks, locations, equipment, safety checks and the unfolding drama of the suit malfunction. Using basic geometry, we calculated Tim’s distance from Zarya, highlighting the painstaking effort required for an astronaut to navigate a mere 50m to the extreme starboard end of the main truss whilst wearing a cumbersome spacesuit in the weightless vacuum of space.
Our experts have distilled the information to produce two GPX files packed with details of times, measurements, places and events from Tim’s marathon and spacewalk, which can be downloaded for free via our Principia page: www.awayteam.co.uk/services/maps/space
Mission facts and figures are included on the webpage to put events into context and help inspire adults and kids who want to explore further. It’s an ideal primer to generate activities for schools and youth groups, e.g. finding ground-level comparisons to the speeds and distances involved, pinpointing locations on an ISS model or measuring out the Station’s floor plan to reenact the spacewalk.
The files can be read by any GPX-compliant device or application, including our own free-access Trkd Maps which can display them interactively on a map to encourage you to explore Tim’s adventures for yourself, and to create your own. We hope you enjoy the journey.
Rob Smith, Away Team Software