How the FUNcube satellite can help with the Science Curriculum

The FUNcube satellite, launched by AMSAT UK in 2013, has become more relevant to science teaching with the introduction of Black Body Radiation into the GCSE Science Curriculum. The black body radiation from the Sun determines the equilibrium temperature of the Moon and the Earth, as well as orbiting satellites, with the Moon’s surface reaching over 100 degrees Celsius after 13 days of sunlight. John Hislop gave a training session to teachers on how the FUNcube is a 21st Century version of the Lesley cube which was traditionally used to show that black surfaces radiate more than white surfaces at the same temperature. The satellite too has black and shiny surfaces which eventually reach thermal equilibrium from the Sun’s radiation. Pupils can download the temperature and solar panel data using a special antenna and dongle which plugs into a laptop. The data can be plotted and the pupils can analyse the graphs and determine the orbital period and spinning rate of the satellite. As a bonus it also shows the Doppler effect as it receives the signal.

“ Some teachers and STEM ambassadors
Some teachers and STEM ambassadors

John also showed how a simple version of the Lesley cube can be made using a baked bean tin with one half painted black. With hot water inside the greater radiation from the black side can be easily felt with one’s hands and the difference is quite dramatic. He demonstrated a black body, which is a perfect absorber and emitter, using a tin container with a hole at one end. Any radiation entering does not escape; a black hole for radiation.

“ Some teachers with radiation equipment
Some teachers with radiation equipment

The dongle is also useful to show the radio electromagnetic spectrum. Free software known as software defined radio presents the radio signals on the screen so that pupils can see their voice when speaking on a radio PMR channel.