Anyone who knows me will know I have a love for all things aviation and space. The past week I have been glued to Nasa TV listening to the idle chatter from STS-118. I don’t know what it is about someone bolting something to a large can whizzing over the Earth at 17,000MPH+ that interest me, (“Changing Rooms” in space !?)…. well maybe you do, which means you are just as bad ! 🙂

I also like to know where the ISS is. I love the chart they have in Mission Control plotting its course along the Earth. It’s pretty cool to think if you look up now and conditions are right you might catch a bright star like object crossing the night’s sky. Well here’s how you can using Kubuntu/Debian.

First off we need to install KTrack and a couple of extra packages to get up and running.

At a terminal run:

sudo aptitude install ktrack libhamlib2 libhamlib-dev xplanet

Note there is a bug with the current ktrack package in Ubuntu/Debian that does not properly resolve dependancies. The libhamlib-dev package needs to be entered manually to get around this otherwise it’s going to be crash city for ktrack. Xplanet adds the nice background 3D worldmap.

Now we can also add this script I wrote to pull the “Two-Line-Elements” from Nasa/AMSAT. These are basically the numbers required to define the ISS and other satellite’s orbits around the Earth. The code should be put in /etc/cron.daily/update_nasa_tle script file. Easiest way to do this is

sudo nano -w /etc/cron.daily/update_nasa_tle

Then when the blank file opens up, copy this text and paste it using right mouse button menu or shift+insert

Here’s the script:

NOTE: This was edited as I since discovered a bare text file which didn’t require any sed work.. oh well !


#We will work in temp
cd /tmp

#Grab the file from AMSAT

cp nasabare.txt /usr/share/apps/ktrack/nasa.tle

#Now we clean up the temp file

rm /tmp/nasabare.txt

Then make sure you make it executable:

sudo chmod 755 /etc/cron.daily/update_nasa_tle

I’m not sure how often this file is updated, but doing it daily should catch it (It’s most likely weekly), and it’s a tiny file so they won’t exactly be swamped by the bandwidth usage !

Now all you have to do is set your location when you start up KTrack, select the satellite ISS in the selection menu and make sure you turn on XPlanet in the Options… and if you fancy set it as your wallpaper.

Yes I don’t get out much ! 😉

KTrack Showing The ISS & Hubble

EDIT: In case anyone wants it, here’s the previous version of the script to strip out the satellite info from the non bare file.


cd /tmp

cat nasa.all | sed -e ‘/./{H;$!d;}’ -e ‘x;/AO/!d;’ | grep -v “/EX” | grep ‘.’ > /usr/share/apps/ktrack/nasa.tle

rm /tmp/nasa.all