Major upgrade for Satellite Augmented Reality for Android

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.

Satellite AR Main Menu

The new Satellite AR Main Menu, on a “Honeycomb” tablet

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 The old “Geostationary belt” button has been replaced by an “All active sats” button, which does show the GEO belt, but with inactive satellites weeded out of it, and active LEO (low-Earth orbit) satellites and other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.

Choose a manual location

Control the fidelity of your location

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.

Satellite AR in use

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!

QR code

Scan or click the QR code


About emackey

Space, coding, 3D stuff, HTML 5, Android, small shiny objects, and whatever else seems cool.
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16 Responses to Major upgrade for Satellite Augmented Reality for Android

  1. Anton says:

    I’m still holding my breath for an iOS port of SAR…. *thud* ;-)


    • emackey says:

      Sorry guys, don’t hold your breath for the iOS/iPhone port. AR apps lean more heavily than most on the APIs in the host OS, which means you can’t “port” them, you have to completely rewrite them for the new OS. This particular app started life simply as proof-of-concept for us, and has become a valuable tool for demonstrating to our clients and customers how our technology can integrate with mobile devices. We have contracts in place now that prevent us sharing the source code for free, so we’d have to develop an iOS version internally, which I estimate would be a 9 to 12 month effort with almost no ROI. I don’t think we have anyone internally spun up on iOS development either.

      Sorry for the gloom and doom, but you do have some alternatives out there. There’s a popular iPhone app called “Hidden Sky” which I’m told is very cool (we didn’t make it). Also, one of our European business partners, Agenium, is working on an app called “WIS” (I think) which is on iTunes as a beta release last time I heard news of it.

      Have a look around on iTunes, I think that’s your best bet for iOS apps. Sorry I can’t be more helpful on this one.

  2. Greg Case says:

    There is a similar app called Satellite Augmented Reality for iOS. It’s actually pretty badass.

  3. Stephen says:

    I’ve tried and tried to install this app, but to no avail… If I search for it in the Android market or on Amazon apps, it doesn’t come up. It shows up on AppBrain, but I can’t find the AppBrain app to install it that way. If I go to and go through the steps, it will say installed on that page, but on my phone nothing happens!

    This app is really aligned with my interests too! When I was younger and had more free time I used to go watch satellites fly over at sunset… Bummer… =(

  4. emackey says:

    Hi Stephan,

    Sorry to hear it’s not showing up on Android Market! This could indicate a hardware incompatibility, because Market tries to keep apps from showing up on devices that don’t support them. For example, Satellite AR requires Android 2.1 or higher, and the app won’t show up in the Market for devices that have lower versions. This app also requires an accelerometer (most phones & tablets have them for detecting screen orientation), a magnetometer (compass), and an Internet connection. But if you have Android 2.1 or better and a connection to Android Market, then you probably have all the requirements.


    • Stephen says:

      I just replied to your email! Thanks for sending me the APK, it’s working perfectly. For anyone else that stumbles across this with a similar problem, my best guess is that because I’m rooted (original Motorola Droid) I think maybe the ROM I’m using is reporting my device improperly or as another device altogether, hence the reason it doesn’t show up in the Android Market for me.

  5. Jakub says:

    I really like your application. I study geodesy and astronomy and I think it could be even better if it was possible to input my location by using coordinates… have you considered implementing such an option?

    • emackey says:

      We’ve certainly thought about it. It would be difficult for most users, they’d have to keyboard in some raw lat/lon numbers on their phone and hope the numbers are accurate. Might be better to have the users select a location from some kind of map display. Something to think about for the future.

  6. Sonny G says:

    Does NOT work on Samsung Galaxy S 4g. Always fails to connect to network. Offline mode only, which does nothing.

    • emackey says:

      Sorry about that, our server is getting killed today due to huge popularity of the UARS satellite de-orbit. Even the main menu is not working sometimes. We’re working to get this corrected soon.

  7. Adam A says:

    I think that must be my issue too as I’m just getting a blank screen, or offline mode, or something else on my Asus Transformer (non rooted) tab.

    • emackey says:

      Yeah our server is being crushed by worldwide UARS news media coverage. We’re working on it, but performance may be hurting for the rest of the day. Thanks for your patience.

  8. Mike says:

    Hmmm finally got the menu but now nothing coming up after hitting UARS. Guess its still trying to get info. At least I got part of the way in! :) I live in San Diego so I’m dying to try this app as it comes by us!

  9. Vince says:

    Hi guys,

    Awesome app. It’s quite astonishing how detailed info like this can be displayed on a mobile device. (HTC Desire HD for me).

    The star map works very well, but it can be difficult to recognize constellations etc because when so many stars are shown, it is hard to make out the important stars amongst all the others. It would be great if you guys could add an option that allows one to select the magnitude cut-off for the display, or even to use (say) the volume buttons to manage this on the fly. Superimposed constellation diagrams would also be useful.

    This is probably moving away from the original purpose of your application, but it would be very useful.


    • Anton says:

      I agree with Vince. BTW, would it be at all possible to add a dimmed red on black “night mode” display option in a future release of Satellite AR? As it is I need to manually reduce the screen brightness on my Motorola Xoom before evening satellite spotting sessions in order not to ruin my eyes’ dark-adaptation so I can actually see sats through my binoculars to say nothing of not accidentally walking off the roof of my 12-storey apartment building during a snack/bathroom break. :-/


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