Understanding GPS: How Can I Tell What GPS Satellites are Above Me?

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Tracking Satellites Overhead

Have you ever looked in the sky and wondered what’s buzzing around your head? Well, if you have any type of GPS device, you might have. GPS tells you exactly where you are in the world, and this is done via satellites. If you wonder how GPS works, then you might have wondered this question: how can I tell what GPS satellites are above me?

While in the past this might have been difficult, websites and even cell phone apps can tell you exactly what satellites are buzzing around in the skies above you.

Heavens Above

One website is Heavens Above. This free website allows you to track the major US satellites, including NanoSail-D, ISS, Envisat and HST. It also tracks radio amateur satellites and objects like the spacecraft and iridium flares.

If you create an account, you can input your current location and other areas where from where you observe heavenly bodies. Registering also means that your location is automatically pulled up when you go on the site.

iPhone Apps

If you don’t feel like running to a website every time that you want to know where a satellite is, you can also go mobile.

iPhone users can take advantage of the free Satellite Tracker app, and you can download this app from iTunes. This app tracks apps as they pass over you and your phone. You can input the satellites that you want to track, and the app shows you where these satellites are. You can track as many satellites as you want, and you can add frequency information.

Besides satellites, you can view the current location of the moon and sun. This app is mainly for iPhone users that want to follow amateur radio satellites.

Another app for iPhones and iPod Touches is the GoSatWatch. This app allows you to track satellites, and it even predicts when a satellite is supposed to fly overhead. You can select a satellite from the list and see its current location and predicted path.

You can get notified when a satellite is passing overhead, and you receive all information in real time. You can view information in either portrait or landscape orientation. This app costs $9.99, and you can download it from iTunes.

Android App

If you own an Android phone, then you can download the Satellite AR developed by AGI. This free app allows you to track any satellite that is flying over head. To use this app, you point your phone at the sky, and the app pulls up both the satellites and the brightest stars. The app even distinguishes between apps flying in the sunlight (marked in yellow) and those flying in the shadow of either the moon or Earth (marked in blue).

These markings help you determine whether or not you can actually see the app. Generally, you may be able to see apps that fly in the sunlight while apps in the shadows of other bodies are almost never visible. You can download this app from the Android Marketplace.