I'm prototyping a real time solar system / milky way discovery app.

Could you please help me on:
-What is the best orbital data public API I can use?
-What is the standard numerical way to define orbit?

I'm looking for something like JPL Small-Body Database Browser, but for every celestial objcets, and / or missions.

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    $\begingroup$ astronomy.stackexchange.com/questions/13488 may help; in particular, look into HORIZONS and "elliptical elements" sometimes called "osculating elements". Most orbits are close to elliptical, hyperbolic, or parabolic. $\endgroup$ – user21 Jan 14 '18 at 23:04

Here is a short answer. @barrycarter's helpful comment links to a much larger list of resources. Also, you may find answers below [this question] helpful.

There are Spice kernels for many (but not all) exploratory spacecraft as well, you can view them through the Horizons interface or find them via ftp.

For most objects in Earth orbit, Two Line Elements (TLEs) from Celestrak or Space-Trakck are useful. See this answer as well.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks! Do I understand right, If I want to create somehwat live orbital path timelapses of multiple bodies, I should use Spice? Querying Horizons for each trajectory could be tiresome. $\endgroup$ – Geri Jan 16 '18 at 14:46
  • $\begingroup$ @Geri I have never used Spice myself, but here is what I know. The "kernels" are (usually large) tables of numbers, which are coefficients that are used to calculate the state vectors (position and velocity in 3D in J2000.0 coordinates) for objects in space. The objects could be planets, minor bodies, spacecraft, etc. They are very carefully pre-calculated, usually for years or centuries in the past and future, depending on the specific object and what is known about them. This is the best of all possible ways to do it. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Jan 16 '18 at 15:00
  • $\begingroup$ Horizons interpolates kernels, but you should use Spice directly, download all kernels, and interpolate yourself using spice routines. This is the extent of my understanding. You might consider un-accepting my answer for the moment and see if someone posts a better, or supplemental answer as well. But the short answer is definitely use Spice. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Jan 16 '18 at 15:02
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    $\begingroup$ @Geri I did not mean to say it like that. Horizons interpolates kernels. Spice interpolates kernels. I assume Horizons uses Spice but I am out of my depth here. But I'm pretty sure you should use Spice in any event :-) $\endgroup$ – uhoh Jan 16 '18 at 15:12
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks, I don't know what kernels are, just thought a common base for both dataset. $\endgroup$ – Geri Jan 17 '18 at 1:52

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