Outreach in Space!

Not literally. But maybe someday.

After learning about World Space Week (https://www.worldspaceweek.org/) in August, I thought an outreach event on this theme was calling, especially in Hawke’s Bay, where I was visiting for a week and its proximity to Rocket Lab ( still another 3hrs away from Napier though on the Mahia Peninsula). I had the opportunity to work on half day visits to two Intermediate schools and introduce the theme for this year(2020), ‘Satellites save lives’.

Satellites made by students from range of material

Students were prepped well by their teachers before the visit, which made it easier. We started with learning about satellites in space, components of a satellite, the CubeSat project and watched a video on how a young school student designed his own pocketSatellite. Students then built their own mock satellites using simple material following a simple design plan provided by NASA’s Build a satellite activity. We did the shake test which the students loved and were cheering away while components that were not secure started falling ‘back to earth’.

The second part of the activity was to design rovers using Lego EV3 kits. The kids had a couple of hours to design and test their rovers over a ‘special’ terrain I made using cardboard and obstacles (stones and bricks essentially). That was a lot of fun too!

Students building a rover using LEGO

However, that gave me a thought on making my own little CubeSat replica which students could get simple data on their phones / computers. After much thought and hardware design changes, I finally settled on using the ESP32 module as a way to interface all the sensors. The design challenge would provide the students an opportunity to 3D design their own cube sats with different materials. It would be a long term goal of mine to develop a simple ESP32 module with basic sensors that that be used as a CubeSat computer board that I could give away to schools when doing outreach on this topic (Update: I have all the bits, just need to finish it off. Check out: https://github.com/pravin-vaz/ClassroomSat)

After getting inspired by this video, students got into discussing in small groups how their satellite would look like and what it would measure in space. JPL has a relevant activity setup along with a student worksheet to designing and building your satellite from recycled materials ( https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/edu/teach/activity/build-a-satellite/). Students came up with fantastic designs although their paper sketches could have been better. I could see their eagerness to get into the stash of recycled materials and get building, so I didn’t dampen their enthusiasm (not forgetting we had very limited time as well).

Students used a range of tools and materials to complete their satellites and present it to the class in a 30 second ‘show and tell’ demonstration. Group participation was fairly high with most students contributing. Some of them were more keen to try out new tech like the 3D printing pens for prototyping. Others stuck with glue guns and cardboard. Using old nuts and bolts as sensors and cameras was very creative I thought.

The second session was all about Mars and the Mars Rover. We have been working on building a mars rover replica using the JPL plans (https://opensourcerover.jpl.nasa.gov/ ) for outreach. The plan was to make this drivable using an FPV camera and get students driving it on their school field while located in the classroom. Concepts such as time delay for instructions to reach the (real) rover are introduced while students are controlling the model rover in real time. Unfortunately, the rover still had much work yet to be done, so I just picked up the chassis and got it as a display to inspire students.

Working Rover in action.

After about 20mins of answering questions on the rover, students started building their mars rovers using LEGO EV3 kits. The idea was to introduce simple programming concepts using the EV3 blocks and get the rover from A to B via going over different terrain (just random objects). This way, I could talk about how hard the terrain on Mars was, and how many times previous rovers have been stranded in sand, etc.

This was a cool session ( did 3 of them in a week at three different schools) on Space and students seem to be enjoying the topic as there is plenty to do and a range of areas to talk about.

Outreach in Space!
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