December 10, 2020 – Philadelphia geospatial software company Cesium announced that it will join the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and other partners to help Santa Claus perform a ceremonial fly-by of the International Space Station (ISS) on December 24.
Santa’s sleigh will now join Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus, SpaceX’s Dragon, JAXA’s HTV, and the Russian Progress on the short list of cargo spacecraft that deliver “presents” to the ISS. The out-of-this world visit will honor the 20th anniversary of continuous life on the ISS, a milestone achieved in November.
“Part of the magic behind Santa’s journey is actually cutting-edge 3D geospatial technology,” said Patrick Cozzi, Cesium’s CEO. “By creating precise digital twins of the Earth with Cesium, we can understand the operations of smart cities, measure piles of soil on construction sites from thousands of miles away, and even track the location of Santa’s sleigh in real-time as he travels around the globe.”
The official NORAD Santa Tracker at NoradSanta.Org enables users to track Santa’s journey all day on December 24. New for this year, visitors will be able to see the ISS orbiting the planet in its precise real-time location by zooming out on the app. Other updates include additions to Santa’s traditional garb, including a face mask, and for part of the journey – a space helmet.
Cesium has been providing the 3D geospatial platform that powers the 3D tracker since 2012, when it was a part of aerospace software company and fellow NORAD Tracks Santa partner, AGI, an Ansys Company. Cesium became independent in 2019, and its platform is now used across industries to build applications that make use of 3D location data collected from sensors like satellites and drones.
“The NORAD Tracks Santa app really highlights the flexibility of the Cesium platform,” said Hannah Pinkos, lead developer of the app.
Tracking Santa’s location begins with NORAD, a United States and Canada bi-national organization that defends North America by tracking objects flying in and around its airspace 24 hours a day using radar, satellites and fighter jets. Each year, it joins corporate partners in taking on a special mission to also track Santa’s sleigh.
The NORAD data is then reflected on Cesium’s highly-precise virtual globe consisting of 3D terrain and satellite imagery that accurately reflects the light from the sun and the position of the stars. The virtual Earth, 3D location data, and a 3D model of Santa’s sleigh is then combined with special effects like digital snow. The end result enables millions of people around the world to follow Santa’s trip around the world in real-time.
This is the 65th anniversary of The NORAD Tracks Santa program, which began with a misprint of Santa’s phone number in a department store advertisement in 1955. Although the program’s hotline still operates (users can call 1-877-HI-NORAD for updates), its technology continues to evolve. For Cesium, it’s a whimsical example that illustrates the value of combining 3D geospatial data and computer graphics for planning, visualizing, and tracking the ever-increasing amount of human activity in space.
“The ISS is a spectacular example of what humans can accomplish when we work together,” said Pinkos. “2020 has been a tough year, but I think this special trip is Santa’s way of reminding us to believe in ourselves.”
About Cesium – The Platform for 3D Geospatial
As the foundational open platform for 3D geospatial data, Cesium makes the world’s ever-growing collection of real-world 3D data more useful and accessible by enabling the creation of applications that visualize, analyze, and share this data on the web. Committed to openness, interoperability and ease-of-use, Cesium powers solutions that create digital twins of the real world in industries such as AEC, aerospace, energy, commercial real estate, smart cities, autonomous driving, and defense. https://cesium.com.