I am looking for recommendations on software that can create orbit sketches such as the image below. Adding an informative sketch to an article can help readers better understand the idea.

I am familiar with Tikz but I did not manage to create too complex plots without getting lost in the code.

Open source is better but I don't mind paying a bit for a good solution. I will also apprentice a nice GUI :) Any suggestion?

Source: https://adcsforbeginners.files.wordpress.com/2015/07/a1.png


  • $\begingroup$ Yeah... SketchUp is terrible when it comes to drawing anything round or curved, and I'm not too fond of taking screenshots in Kerbal Space Program after preparing the set of orbits through hyperedit, then maneuvers through PreciseNode. $\endgroup$
    – SF.
    Nov 19, 2018 at 9:56
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    $\begingroup$ Graphics like this you can do quite easily in any vector graphics program. Inkscape is one quite popular free software for that. $\endgroup$
    – asdfex
    Nov 19, 2018 at 11:27
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    $\begingroup$ I use Mathematica, which is commercial (and probably too expensive), but wolfram.com (not Wolfram Alpha) allows you to access some Mathematica features for free online. $\endgroup$
    – user7073
    Nov 19, 2018 at 20:50
  • $\begingroup$ @barrycarter How much learning is required to make diagrams like this using Mathematica, starting from zero experience? What kind of syntax would be used? I'm intrigued. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Nov 20, 2018 at 1:09
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    $\begingroup$ Wow, didn't expect anyone to actually take me up on it :) I'd like to clean it up, but, in ugly form: go to github.com/barrycarter/bcapps/tree/master look for any subdirectory with files like image* (STACK has the most, QUORA, REDDIT, MATHEMATICA also have a few), and then find the .m file referencing that image. Somewhere in all the clutter in the .m file are the graphics that draw the image. I do want to clean this up, but I thought it'd be good to at least give a sample. Feel free, as always, to contact me directly (contact info in profile) $\endgroup$
    – user7073
    Nov 20, 2018 at 16:47

1 Answer 1


When just throwing something together, I use GeoGebra.

2D and 3D diagrams can be constructed from mathematical primitives, both declaratively or through drawing.

There's a bit of everything in it. A computer algebra system, LaTeX, spreadsheets, scripting and so on. None of it works particularly well, but when you don't feel like making a custom graphic, you can make something reasonable in 15 minutes.

geogebra version of diagram

  • $\begingroup$ Seconding GeoGebra. It can be very annoying to use at some times, but it can be used to solve Kepler's equations for some kind of nice animations I've used for a few answers here and there. $\endgroup$
    – notovny
    Jul 9, 2021 at 23:56

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