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The trajectories of space launches and the deployment of their payload (both scientific and commercial) are certainly carefully monitored by the space agency or company providing the launch capability, probably more than one government or military organization, the owner of the payload, and certainly some amateur satellite observers.

I'm wondering how common it is for these trajectories to be made available to the public afterward. I'd interested in both precise data, and reconstructed trajectories based on the best available information.

Where are likely sources for this kind of information, and which groups or organizations might provide it?

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  • $\begingroup$ Well, I am not sure if the Internet would be full with launch trajectory databases, to make this question really "too broad"... I think, if there is a case as such resource recommendations should be accepted, it is one. $\endgroup$
    – peterh
    Feb 27, 2018 at 0:40
  • $\begingroup$ @peterh I've rewritten the question a bit. I do not think it is too broad now. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Feb 27, 2018 at 6:10

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It is going to be difficult to find precise data during the initial launch, however let's see what might be available:

For SpaceX launches, their videos posted in their YouTube channel display altitude and speed, as well as visualizations of their orbits and their projected ground-track across Earth's geography. Their press releases contain additional information, including approximate times and target orbits (shape, inclination, etc). The most notable, prolific, and accurate set of reconstructions posted for public consumption is available at flightclub.io (read more in reddit).

For answers here that have used details from flightclub, see here and here and here.

For the movement of spacecraft around the Earth once in orbit, you can use two line elements available from Celestrak.org or Space-Track.org. See this answer for more about Space-Track, and this site is filled with questions and answers referring to Celestrak and TLEs, and you will find several with Python scripts that allow you to calculate trajectories from the TLEs.

As some launches continue to Earth orbit and especially to deep space, JPL's Horizons will provide calculated past and future trajectories. This site is also filled with questions and answers referring to Horizons, and you will find several with Python scripts that allow you do extract and plot orbits from Horizons data.

There may be reconstructions of historical launches, such as those of the Gemini and Apollo missions, and in fact, some of them can also be found at flightclub.io as well!

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Unless you know someone working on the launch or landing team, you’ll be hard pressed to get the exact trajectory any time before the mission. However, it is often easy to find out the payload and its expected orbit once deployed. If for example SpaceX is launching satellites for a circumpolar orbit and the rocket is launching from California, the trajectory would need to be in a general South East direction. I filmed this footage based on the knowledge of where I was going to be, what the rocket was launched and its final destination.

. So if you are looking to experience a launch from home, you can use the final orbit to determine where to look. If you are wanting to study the trajectory of a flight after it’s complete that information can be obtained by watching the launch.

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    $\begingroup$ It's true that a general launch direction (i.e. east vs south) can be determined by the type of orbit, and can be narrowed down a little more if you know the inclination of the orbit. However the question being asked is about "precise data, and reconstructed trajectories", so the OP is looking for more than just a general idea of the direction of launch. As for watching replays of a launch, the speed and altitude is often displayed, however that information is not correlated to a location on the ground, so a precise trajectory can't really be calculated from that, at least not easily. $\endgroup$ Oct 30, 2023 at 14:10

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