A CubeSat is a real satellite that is small enough to fit in your hands!
This activity has two parts that can be done individually or together. Students make a full-size imaginary cardboard model of a 1U CubeSat like that described in the article What is a CubeSat? Making a physical model will help students to see how tiny a 10 cm3 satellite actually is.
Students then have the option to code a micro:bit single board computer to make it become a simple version of a sun sensor used in many satellites. (The code the micro:bit uses is available as a hex code file download available below. Instructions for loading the hex code file into the MakeCode editor are in the student handout in the Word file, which is also available below.) As an extension, students can modify the code to give numerical values of the light intensity shining on the micro:bit.
The student handout has helpful images and step-by-step instructions for building the CubeSat and attaching and coding the optional micro:bit sensor. The teaching notes contain construction alternatives for younger students.
By the end of this activity, students should be able to:
- create a 3D model of a CubeSat
- appreciate the small size of a 1U CubeSat.
Students using micro:bit to make a simple sun sensor should be able to:
- code a micro:bit by copying the MakeCode program provided
- explain how they are modelling how a CubeSat can detect light shining on it
- modify the code to give numerical values of the light intensity shining on the micro:bit
- extend the model by suggesting ways the CubeSat can alter its position while finding which direction has the most light shining on it.
This activity is ideally done after reading the article What is a CubeSat?
Download the Word file (see link below).
Download the CubeSat template PDF file (see below).
Download the Micro:bit hex code file (see below) .
Find out how Dr Sarah Kessans is using a CubeSat to grow protein crystals. It’s part of a much bigger dream she has to colonise Mars!
CubeSats are one type of built satellite. Find out about other types in the article Artificial satellites.
Building satellites for Earth observation lists some of the common components that satellites carry. It takes creativity and skill to fit these into the very small CubeSats!
In this recorded webinar Stephen Ross shares digital tools to support students’ engagement with the science capabilities.
Get your students to turn their eyes to the night sky to observe natural satellites and spot artificial satellites – like the ISS – as they pass overhead. Back indoors, students can hunt for satellites online with a webquest.Students can use other models to explore space-related ideas:
- Micro:bit and space projects challenges students to create a space-related project and use a micro:bit to gather data.
- Scale model for satellite orbits explores satellite altitudes and satellite motion.
- Investigating satellite dishes
Build other CubeSat models by downloading pattern templates. These range in difficulty from simple to very intricate models.
- AAU CubeSat (Aalborg University student satellite), Denmark.
- Irvine 01 CubeSat IRVINE01 built by a consortium of six high schools from Irvine, USA.
For more information about micro:bit and its capabilities:
These sites provide additional information about sun sensors:
- Sun sensor
- CubeSatShop MAUS CubeSat sunsensor
This resource has been produced with funding from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and the support of the New Zealand Space Agency.
The templates used in this activity were designed by Denis Burchill. Visit Denis Burchill’s resource pages for more activity ideas.