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The October 2016 NASA JPL news article Art Turns Public Eyes (and Ears) Toward Space describes an artistic interpretation of the communications between a number of NASA Earth satellites and ground stations.

The Orbit Pavilion is a sound installation opening Saturday, Oct. 29, at The Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California. The installation lets listeners "hear" 19 of NASA's Earth science satellites pass over them, providing a fun and engaging way to learn about space. It originally debuted in 2015 as part of New York's World Science Festival.

The article goes on to explain that the communication "causes" the interpretive sounds to be generated:

From the outside, the installation looks like a giant, futuristic seashell; enter, and you can hear as satellites approach the horizon and sail overhead. Each satellite causes speakers to generate a simulated sound, ranging from desert winds to a crashing wave or rustling leaves. A digital screen identifies the individual satellites, providing an opportunity to learn how they contribute to NASA's science missions. (emphasis added)

Question: I am wondering if the installation's electronics sampling some website or data link in order to be triggered by an actual communication, or was it just programmed with a previously scheduled communications plan, and timers initiated the sounds, or perhaps something else?



Further Background:

Orbit is the brainchild of The Studio at JPL, an art and design workshop that develops creative ways to educate the public on space exploration. Since 2003, the team has developed everything from expoplanet travel posters to digital light sculptures, all with the aim of increasing public awareness of space science.

The team collaborated with Jason Klimoski and Lesley Chang of Brooklyn-based architectural firm STUDIOKCA, who conceived of and designed Orbit's seashell structure. They also collaborated with Shane Myrbeck, who composed Orbit's soundscape and engineered the audio system.

below: Images from NASA JPL News; Click for full size.

Caption: Looking over the Orbit Pavilion, a sound installation designed to teach the public about NASA's earth science satellites. The installation was designed at JPL and opens to the public at The Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens on Oct. 29, 2016. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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    $\begingroup$ Geez I miss the nice SoCal weather! $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Mar 11, 2018 at 22:47
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    $\begingroup$ At one point the canopies over the guard shacks at JSC lit up blue when the ISS flew overhead. Science! $\endgroup$ Jun 29, 2018 at 0:30

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You are asking to see behind the mask of Oz the All Powerful, All Seeing, All Knowing. Tread not lightly into this domain O Seeker! Ye risk much.

As someone once said, "just programmed with a previously scheduled communications plan, and timers initiated the sounds". Perhaps you too, one day, may step behind the sacred curtain of knowledge and beguile the world. And if we must quibble about directness of causation, only think hard on the butterfly effect and entanglement. Is synchronicity of purpose or schedule causal? Perhaps. Or not. These distinctions blur.

And yet.

In this, what matters more? The knowledge, or the wonder that leads one to seek the knowledge?

Happy orbiting!

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  • $\begingroup$ This doesn't provide information on the question. $\endgroup$
    – kim holder
    Jun 28, 2018 at 20:19
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    $\begingroup$ For the sake of wonder itself (the purpose of the exhibit), some questions should remain unanswered. $\endgroup$
    – OyaMist
    Jun 28, 2018 at 21:01
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    $\begingroup$ I appreciate your humor and insight very much! With a reputation greater than 50, you are allowed to post comments here. That might be a better way to go in this case. I believe deletion will boost you a few more points as well, since it seems you've collected a few down votes here currently. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jun 28, 2018 at 23:29
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    $\begingroup$ I accept the downvotes as deserved. And yet I would propose that this question remain unanswered. The Orbit exhibit is absolutely magical. $\endgroup$
    – OyaMist
    Jun 28, 2018 at 23:48
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    $\begingroup$ a tiny bit of "space art" right here in SE then ;-) $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jun 29, 2018 at 0:44
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Well I ran across several interviews with the artists today, and although I appreciate @OyaMist's embrace of the wonders of space I also think that we should give credit where credit is due; not only to artists but to anyone.

In this case that would be

Dan Goods and David Delgado dreamed of listening to the satellites that study the earth. As visual strategists for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is managed for NASA by Caltech, Delgado and Goods invited sound artist Shane Myrbeck and architect Jason Klimonski to create a stunning immersive experience now installed at The Huntington.

From NASA/JPL artist Dan Goods' directdisplay.com's Orbit page I found the YouTube video Orbit Pavilion at The Huntington linked below

Question: I am wondering if the installation's electronics sampling some website or data link in order to be triggered by an actual communication, or was it just programmed with a previously scheduled communications plan, and timers initiated the sounds, or perhaps something else?

Close! There is indeed "electronic sampling of some website or data link" but that seems to be to retrieve Two Line Element Sets and filter them for NASA spacecraft in Earth orbit.

But the sounds generated to represent the spacecrafts current positions relative to the pavilion itself are representative of the satellite, as interpreted by space artists and acoustical artists, not actual communications links.

There's a text file that you download that has all these really arcane pieces of data about the number of the satellite mission the payload of the satellite its launch coordinates the date it was launched intended trajectory. So you take that code and then you run it through an algorithm that that takes all those arcane inputs and puts it out into like an X Y Z around the center of the earth the coordinates all go into my audio processing software and then I scaled those XYZ coordinates to take that sound and move it around these speakers.

and later:

There's a little display inside and it shows the two acts. So the first act is where they are right now, and then the second act is where they've been in the past 24 hours sped up to one minute.

The sped up data is fast enough that you can sense the movement but slow enough that you stop and pause and listen closely atmosphere satellites which are the sounds of wind and the rustling and the ocean sounds are water. So there's like a thunderstorm and then all the earth sounds are musical instruments. So those are the ones that are really grounded in the base musical composition. So the first part is the sounds all sped up and swirling around you and then the other thing is where they are right now and so those sounds are a lot more electronic and the tones are meant to evoke more about the specific spacecraft.

When you hear a sound and you point your finger you could continue that point upward and eventually it would point to where the satellite is. You know people could actually feel there and hear their presence I want people to go in this thing feel like they're floating feel like they're caught in a bubble of space to kind of like drift in and out of this space of our earth and low-earth orbit and this immediate space of this shell and these sounds this has been just sort of a dream come true we're listening to earth science satellites and that's why we're so lucky to have it be here at the Huntington this ground-level resolution of the world's environments here.

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