Spring 2007 Issue

Bringing Space
Into Your Classroom

Here is a “how-to” article on getting radio space communications into the classroom, written by one who knows how to jump the hurdles. The following is reprinted from the January/February 2007 issue of the AMSAT Journal, courtesy of AMSAT-NA and the author.

By Mark Spencer, WA8SME

Figure 1. The typical display of orbital predication software. This is a free-ware software package showing the orbit and position of a satellite.

Space-borne technology affects many things in our daily lives, from telephone and television communications, to national security, to scientific research, to weather forecasting, to protection and husbandry of the environment and natural resources, to providing the location of your car when you have a flat tire and need help. It is important for our students to study space and space-borne technology so that they can use this technology more effectively to enrich their lives. Also, if you are looking for something that cuts across curricular lines, something that connects multiple content areas from geography and geology, from physics and environmental studies, from the science of radio to the science of space, bringing space into your student’s learning experience, this just might be for you.

I suspect that you think that bringing space into the classroom has to be expensive and requires advanced and sophisticated equipment, but you are wrong. My purpose in this article is to illustrate a four-step approach that will allow you to bring space into your students’ learning experience incrementally, at a level of rigor that is appropriate for your students and at a cost that is affordable.

The four incremental building blocks that you can use to bring space into the classroom include:

1. A computer and satellite orbit prediction software.

2. A receiver to receive signals sent by satellites.

3. Display software that will display imagery sent by certain satellites.

4. A dedicated satellite receiver and antenna for a quality satellite ground station.

Step 1

This step begins with obtaining a computer and installing satellite orbit prediction software so that satellite positions and tracking are displayed in the classroom. The computer could be the latest and newest high-powered computer, yet many older models that have been retired will do just fine. Satellite position prediction is fundamental to using space-borne technology and provides many learning experiences for students. Predicting satellite locations used to be done with tedious mathematic calculations, but for years computers have been used to do the chore. Some of the more capable prediction software packages can be purchased for modest cost, but many free computer programs for various computer platforms are available from web resources.1

When you have the computer with the satellite prediction software loaded, just following these steps to get started:

1. Update the computer’s internal clock to the correct time. Although not absolutely necessary, the correct time is required for accurate position predictions.2

2. Update the Keplerian elements. The Keplerian elements are the mathematical parameters used by the formulas in the predication software to calculate the satellite position. Up-to-date Keplerian elements are available from the web.3

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