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I'm not an astronomer by any means, and am trying to extract the horizontal coordinates, azimuth and altitude, of a GPS satellite given its most recent broadcast ephemeris.

Here is some example ephemeris data that I'm given from one GPS satellite:

Value Units Description
2.5484E-04 s Time polynomial coefficient 0
6.1391E-12 s/s Time polynomial coefficient 1
0.0000E+00 s/s^2 Time polynomial coefficient 2
-5.2154E-08 radians Amplitude of cos harmonic correction term to angle of inclination
7.4506E-08 radians Amplitude of sine harmonic correction term to angle of inclination
1.4072E+02 m Amplitude of cosine harmonic correction term to orbit radius
-4.2938E+01 m Crs
-2.2259E-06 radians Amplitude of cosine harmonic correction term to argument of latitude
1.2551E-05 radians Amplitude of sine harmonic correction term to argument of latitude
1.2808E-09 semicircles/s Mean motion difference from computed value
5.7916E-03 Eccentricity
3.0838E-01 semicircles Inclination angle at reference time
1.8383E-10 semicircles/s Rate of inclination angle
3.6954E-01 semicircles Mean anomaly at reference time
3.0715E-01 semicircles Argument of perigee
1.7677E-01 semicircles Longitude of ascending node of orbit plane at weekly epoch
-2.4689E-09 semicircles/s Rate of right ascension
5.1537E+03 sqrt(m) Square root of the semi-major axis
-1.1176E-08 s Group delay differential
2.5200E+05 s Clock data reference time
2.5200E+05 s Reference time of ephemeris

I'm using python, and my current process is:

  1. Compute the corrected Keplerian parameters at the current time. I use the equations from this appendix.
  2. Import the corrected Keplerian parameters into PyEphem using the XEphem format (to find it quickly, search for "object type is Earth satellite" on that page): e = ephem.readdb(line)
  3. Compute the observer location e.compute(self.observer)
  4. Check the calculated azimuth and altitude against in-the-sky.org for my location

But the calculation is always wrong compared to in-the-sky.org. What am I doing wrong? Could I be doing it differently?

Here is some example output from my program that compares the altitude and azimuth from Celestrak ephemerides to my other ephemerides data source.

Name:            Celestrak GPS Sat 13           (Other Source) GPS Sat 13
altitude:        -6:16:50.0                     -41:39:25.2
azimuth:         235:16:27.9                    60:17:06.8

As of this writing, in-the-sky.org from my location shows that the altitude is -7 degrees, and the azimuth is 234 degrees. Celestrak is usually within 1-2 degrees of in-the-sky.org.

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  • $\begingroup$ I really love using in-the-sky.org but I've never really checked it quantitatively compared to a thoroughly rigorous calculation like you can get from the Python package Skyfield. Have you manually entered your latitude, longitude, elevation and time zone into in-the-sky properly each time? If not, it's just using some approximate location. Can you add to your question an example the results you get by the two different methods, as well as state just how "wrong" your results are? $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Feb 2, 2022 at 0:46
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh yes it's a great website. I love it. Yes I input my location each time. And, I checked in-the-sky.org against celestrak's ephemeris, and it's always with 1-2 degrees. I'll update the question! $\endgroup$ Feb 2, 2022 at 0:52

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