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Satellite Perspective


Just how far away are the GPS satellites in orbit above the earth? Really far. Really, really far. About 20,200 kilometers (12,500 miles). But just naming the distance doesn’t give you the full picture– so we made a picture to scale.

Passenger Jet

A passenger jet cruises along at roughly 12 km. At the sale of our image below it is less than one pixel above the earth; barely off the ground. We can’t even draw it in our image.

International Space Station, Orbiter

When the NASA Space Shuttle launches into orbit and docks with the International Space Station I often chuckle when people talk about it being in “outer space”. As you can see in the image below, it really isn’t all that far, a mere 400 km. Most people assume it is much further away.

Hubble Telescope

Recently there was a great NASA mission to upgrade the Hubble Telescope and keep it alive for a few more years. Hubble orbits earth at about 600km.

GPS Satellites

The GPS satellites are zipping along at 20,200 km above earth. They great distance is why your GPS receiver can “see” so many of them at one time. With 32 satellites in orbit, your GPS receiver can often easily see a dozen or so so at one time.


So where is the Moon in this picture? It is so much further away I wouldn’t have been able to include the ISS, Hubble, and Orbiter at scale in the images. The Moon is about 385,000 kilometers from Earth, nearly twenty times further than the GPS satellites are.

(Click on the image for a larger view and zoom in if your browser resizes to fit the screen to see the full effect.)

little images credit: NASA

4 Responses

  1. It is also interesting to note that WAAS/EGNOS satellites which are in geosynchronous orbit are even further away at 36,000km.


    Scott - February 16th, 2010
  2. Wow, interesting stuff! Thanks for the post.

    Kenji O. - February 17th, 2010
  3. I never realized that the ISS was so close compared to the GPS satelites, but I guess it does make sense. And really didnt know the satellites are that close to the moon, I thought it was a lot further away 🙂

    Reggie Wallace - November 3rd, 2010
  4. this is a great site. I missed most of science throughout my school years because it required some diligence. Boy, do I wish I could have a do-over. I learned more here, than I ever did. Yes, that’s right. This little diagram has made me more aware of earth and it’s surroundings than anything I have seen.
    Many, many thanks

    bill - December 27th, 2010

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