Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Satellite Technologies in the Classroom

Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Satellite Technologies in the Classroom

Article excerpt

In May of 1998, the Wireless Communications World was set on its ear as the Galaxy 4 communications satellite spun out of its intended orientation. The incident not only served to expose some of the vulnerabilities in our high-tech society, but just exactly how pervasive the technology had become.

Satellite communications have become so much more than a means to get "cable TV" without the cable. As consumers, we continuously access information via satellite through the means of TV, radio, pagers, cellular phones, ATM machines and charge cards. While many of us appreciate and use the technology for these functions, vast resources of digital satellite communications lay largely unknown and unexplored.

In the summer of '98, I discovered the importance of many different applications of satellite technology as I had the opportunity to participate in two outstanding professional development activities. Through Florida SIFT (Summer Industrial Fellowship for Teachers), I was privileged to work on the Atlas Program for Lockheed Martin. The Atlas rocket deploys many of the communications satellites that we have come to rely upon. Besides this experience, I was also able to attend a Global Positioning Satellite workshop hosted by the University of Central Florida and funded by TRDA (Technological Research and Development Authority).

Satellite Deployment

Satellites are typically deployed by means of a rocket booster under a payload faring containing the satellite spacecraft. Many different orbital configurations are used depending upon the nature of the work to be performed by the satellite. For instance, geosynchronous orbital patterns are used when it is desirable to have continuous access to only one certain portion of the globe.

By placing the spacecraft in a high enough orbit so that the revolutionary speed of the satellite is equal to the rotational speed of the earth, the spacecraft remains stationary relative to that point on the earth. The GOES and METEOSAT satellites use this type of orbit.

Polar orbiting satellites orbit longitudinally around the earth in a fixed plane. By taking advantage of the earth's rotational movement beneath it, a polar orbiting satellite can scan the entire surface of the earth in a short period of time. POES and NOAA satellites are polar orbiting. Where continuous and complete earth coverage is required, constellations of satellites are established such as the NAVSTAR-GPS System.

Classroom Applications

While anyone can receive live feeds from our environmental satellites -- provided they have an antenna and a receiver set to the correct frequency -- the Internet abounds with downloadable satellite imagery. Though the data is often not in real time, the ease of accessibility, the range and quantity of images, and the archival capabilities of the Internet make the use of satellite imagery a great educational activity.

Infrared Imagery

For many students, the evening news weather report is the extent of their experience with satellite imagery. Pictures showing cloud formations and movement are very valuable to weather forecasting and storm tracking, but because they display only what the satellite is seeing in the visible spectrum of light, they constitute only a small portion of the data available from environmental satellites. Many of the satellites mentioned before have the ability to detect radiation beyond the limits of visible light, such as in the infrared spectrum. Infrared imaging provides an entirely different perspective of our world by measuring and displaying various levels of heat as well as locating areas of specific thermal events, such as volcanoes and forest fires.

High-Resolution Photography

Perhaps the most intriguing but least known uses for pictures from space deal with high-resolution photography. Developed during the Cold War, our ability to visually monitor the goings-on of friend and foe has now reached incredible heights. …

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