Paper Plate Education
Activity: Communicating with ISS
This paper plate activity is adapted from one developed by
Star Station One folks at Bishop Museum in Hawaii. Youll need twelve
paper plates, six each of two colors OR six paper plates that are a different
color on the front and back (the birthday party plates in the dollar store work
just fine). I have used the dessert size and the full size plates;
either one has been successful. Youll also need an image of the International
Space Station (which can be downloaded from http://spaceflight.nasa.gov
hunt through the Shuttle mission information for the latest images). Refresh
your memory of communications satellites at the web site http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/shuttle/reference/shutref/orbiter/comm/tdrs/
And this activity requires a fair amount of space a clear floor area
of six meters by six meters works well.
I begin with an image of the ISS, showing it to the
students and explain that the station is in orbit around Earth right now, that
it looks like this, and that other modules will be added over the next few
years. There is a crew onboard now. The station is visible in the night sky and
looks like a very small dim star. (If you go to the heavens-above.com web site,
you can find out when the ISS will be visible from your back yard.) Four years
from now when all the components are assembled, it will be very large, nearly
100 meters across, and will look like a big bright star.
Communication in space is line of sight so when the
ISS is not over Texas, communication with Houston is impossible. This is
demonstrated first with the image of ISS. Facing the students, I move the
picture of ISS around me (ISS orbits Earth), while describing the signal
traveling straight out in front of me. A student volunteer then becomes the ISS
and holds two different colored paper plates (or one bi-colored plate), while I
hold the same. The student faces me from meter or so away, and we practice
communicating, the student switching the plates to match the color I am
showing with my plate(s).
The ISS student then orbits Earth, switching plate(s)
to simulate communication, and when he or she is behind me I make sure the plate
colors change. The other students in the group usually laugh or give hints.
When the volunteer ISS is back at the starting point, I ask
if s/he could see the plates while s/he was behind me. Usually the student says
no, and I repeat the straight line signal information.
Then I ask students how engineers could overcome the problem, and lead
them to the idea that we need four communications satellites, each 36000 km out
and spaced evenly around Earth, to relay information from the ground to the
space station. Four students volunteer to become those TDRSS satellites. Each
holds the plate(s) and stands facing me (Earth). One is about four meters out on
my right, another the same distance on my left, the third faces me, and the last
is behind me (all about four meters away from Earth)
We practice changing plate colors with the TDRSS satellites
and the ISS once more; then ISS orbits Earth and watches the satellites for
information when out of sight of my plates. The other students watch and
comment. I ask the satellites how THEY knew what color to show (information may
be relayed through several satellites before reaching the ISS) and we discuss
that. At the end I ask the students to applaud for the volunteers (which they
usually do enthusiastically).
Collect your plates and leave the image of ISS with the teacher if you can. (Ive found that many schools dont have good color printers or easy web access.)
Contributed by April Whitt.
Copyright ©2012 Chuck Bueter. All rights reserved.