Satellites – Where are they?

Look up and spot the satellites above you. How far are they? Well, if you could lift up the front of your car until it was standing on its exhaust pipe and then drive straight upwards, the nearest ones are only one hour’s drive away, assuming your car can go 160km/h. I’m sure mine could achieve that – on the way back.

Virgin Galactic is taking deposits (now) to fly you not quite so high (one day) for R2,5m.

Here are some distances to various satellites (that’s the International Space Station in the top pic, the one we drove to in an hour or two).


Satellite Types


shuttles, space stations, spysats, navsats, hamsats


weather sats, photo sats

960-1 900km

spysats, military comsats, hamsats

4 800-9 600km

science sats

 1 000-19 000km

navsats (eg. GPS)

36 000km

communications, broadcast, weather (geo-stationary)

Those that stay in one position relative to earth (the ‘geo-stationary’ ones) are a bit further and it would take you about two weeks of non-stop driving to get to the DSTV satellite. If you get there, please switch off all those “reality” shows. So better pack some sarmies and a flask of coffee. And take blankets.

car in space_2.jpg

Two geo-stationary satellites.

On this scale the space shuttle and spysats are flat against the earth – you couldn’t see any space between them and earth they’re so close.

So: Ready to take a R2 500 000 ‘space’ flip, even though you won’t actually be going into space?

Virgin Galactic.jpg

The furthest ‘satellite’ you wouldn’t be able to drive to, though. It is now 20 640 000 000km away. Voyager 1 was launched in 1977. It’s more a ‘space probe’ and it’s flying away from us at about 17km per second. Voyager 1 is the first and only man-made object to have explored Uranus and Neptune, and to have left our solar system. A radio message from Voyager 1 now takes over 19hrs to reach us.


Update: Now Voyager 2 has also left our solar system. In December 2018 NASA announced the satellite, the only spacecraft to have visited all four gas giant planets — Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune — had joined its predecessor Voyager 1 beyond the bounds of our sun’s influence How’s that!? Travel at 17km per second for just 41 years and Zap! you’re out of our solar system! Just another 81 000 years and you’ll reach our nearest star, Alpha Centauri. Of course, you’d still be in the Milky Way, our own galaxy. Intergalactic travel? Now that’s another ballgame!

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