2020 Shortlist

How to Profit in Space: A Visual Guide

Category: Best visualization (small and large newsrooms)

Country/area: United States

Organisation: The Wall Street Journal

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 25/06/2019

Credit: Yaryna Serkez, Joel Eastwood, Robert Wall

Project description:

An exciting journey through the constellations of Earth’s satellites and business opportunities in space. This project combines the realistic simulation of objects orbiting our planet with an in-depth look at how outer space is turning into a battlefield for startups and tech investors.  

Impact reached:

This project is a thorough analysis of the space industry and its future trends. The Wall Street Journal scrutinized the Earth observation data market and investigated the potential threads of space debris and space commercialization. The project had high engagement and positive reader feedback for both desktop and mobile versions.

Techniques/technologies used:

Data-preparation process for this project included work with both R and Node.js. The Journal team has used R to merge Space-Track’s satellite catalog with available TLE (navigation) data and categorize satellites by type and purpose with UCS satellite database. The three-dimensional position of satellites, debris and orbit paths were calculated based on TLE data with javascript library satellite.js. In cases when TLE data wasn’t available, the approximate position was calculated based on the object’s inclination and apogee.

What was the hardest part of this project?

This visualization is an advanced combination of d3.js and Three.js. To improve performance, the Journal team wrote a custom GLSL vertex shader with Tween.js logic under the hood. This made it possible to handle all calculations needed for chronological satellite animation by GPU and dramatically improve the overall user experience. Other charts were built mostly with d3.js and canvas. Camera transitions and zoom-in views at Lansat and Dove satellites were created using Tween.js. Designwise, the complexity of the subject required a sophisticated visual layout and a color palette that suggested space.

What can others learn from this project?

Deeply rich data sets can be translated into clear and easily understood narratives, even on complex topics. This project is a great showcase of intricate design decisions which could facilitate complicated and information-dense layouts. The treatment simplifies the experience for the reader without simplifying the story. This data visualization successfully balances the need for complexity and the need for clarity. It is a complex macroeconomic story is told through a concise and accessible format. 

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