As part of their Space Week the pupils at St Stephenâ€™s Methodist Primary School in Canterbury were keen to receive their special personalised message from Space. AMSAT had uploaded a greetings message for the year 5 class onto the FUNcube satellite which was due to pass over the school at 9.45. To help the pupils understand how satellites worked John G7OHO explained how Sir Isaac Newton had the idea of firing a cannon from a mountain so fast that it would orbit the Earth.
They knew about cubesats as the theatre group Spacefund had mentioned them as part of the Team Tim show. What are the conditions like in Space 600km up? -270 Celsius and zero pressure - difficult concepts! The website n2yo showed the position of the spacecraft as we needed to know if it was travelling northwards or southwards.
The time came for the class to go into the playground and set up the antenna.
The website Heavens above informed us of the compass bearing the satellite would appear above the horizon. We were all set with the FUNcube dashboard software running. Suddenly we noticed that the program had picked up the signal and the data started to be downloaded. After about 10 minutes of tracking the satellite it disappeared over the horizon travelling at a similar speed to that of Tim Peake in the ISS next year. We went back to the classroom and the laptop was connected to the interactive white board. The pupils wanted to see their message from Space! They were thrilled that the strange noises heard on the laptop became their greetings message.
We looked at the temperature data and we could see that the temperature went up when it was in daylight for about 45 minutes and dropped when it was in the Earthâ€™s shade for the next 45 minutes. The pupils were able to calculate the orbital period from the temperature graph which was about 100 minutes; longer than Timâ€™s 90 minutes because of the higher orbit. According to their teacher the pupils found the exercise very interesting and they asked some very insightful questions.