“Satellites Charts” examines current and past artificial satellites orbiting around Earth,
pointing out how our terrestrial life became so dependent on what we sent out in space. With topics ranging
from space exploration to space pollution, communication, and warfare, the data visualization functions as an
index to unlock related stories. More than eight thousand satellites are plotted on the chart: the data show
how many satellites are still operational or decayed, who launched them, and in which years.
Displaying such information on a flat design allows the viewer to zoom in and out in time. In about 70 years of space history, we slowly built an extension of Earth's infrastructure above our head, an extra level of data collection and exchange. Satellites are essential technologies that must be constantly safeguarded, especially from human threats: jobs, services, social gatherings, transport, and communications are strictly dependent on the network of artificial bodies monitoring the planet. It is impossible to imagine our current living standards and global connections without the data transmission between satellites and Earth stations. This is what keeps the world spinning.
The starting point of the research was an Anti-Satellite (ASAT) test carried by Russia on November 15th, 2021.
On that day, Russia intercepted one of its defunct satellites with an Anti-Satellite test, creating a cloud of
space debris that threatened the astronauts present in the International Space Station. Conducting ASAT tests
is a common practice since the 60s, but no country intercepted such a large target before: the debris will
likely stay in orbit for years. The research project initially examined the current and past state of space
objects, focusing on possible satellite threats. The goal was to define the major powers with active
counterspace weapon systems and to give a glimpse of the consequent space pollution.
By digging into the material, the research focus has been extended to the whole number of space object orbiting Earth. On October 4, 1957, the Russian Sputnik 1 was the first-ever artificial satellite successfully placed in orbit around Earth. Documented as number 1, today the space objects catalog lists more than 51 thousends items. Half of these are currently active as of March 6th, 2022; 25,300 space objects (satellites, payloads, rocket bodies, debris) floats above our heads, constantly tracked to avoid possible collisions with manned spacecrafts, among other objects, or towards the planet.
Research, design, and code by Cinzia Bongino
“Satellites Charts” has been realised for the Randr Satellite Project, a digital exhibition focusing on projects dealing with political design. Self-organized by two former students from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the exhibition included works from designers based in the United States, Pakistan, China, and Italy.
This is an ongoing project: more charts and topics will be added in the following months, focusing on the geography of launch sites, the past and current debris floating in space, and the names of satellites and missions. The high number of data (combined by merging multiple databases) made it difficult to work with live data as well as coding an interactive visualization. Due to the limited coding skills of the author and the tight deadline, working with a static 2D visualization has been the most optimal solution.
Last update: June 1st, 2022