SatNOGS in the Classroom

CubeSats are small, relatively inexpensive satellites orbiting the earth every 128 minutes at an attitude of 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles). Getting a cubesat into orbit is a multi-year effort costing $50,000 to $100,000 USD, often beyond the means of most schools. However, there is a way to incorporate cubesats into the classroom by taking advantage of the hundreds of educational and experimental satellites already in orbit transmitting telemetry data and pictures to earth.

SatNOGS is a global network of ground stations operated by educational institutions, hobbyists and space enthusiasts. These stations receive, decode and store cubesat data for use by both the cubesat builders and the general public, allowing anyone to engage with and participate in the science of cubesats.

The SatNOGS network can the basis for independent research projects. Until the pandemic is over, all student activity can be conducted online. Using web-based applications, students schedule SatNOGS stations to received and decode signals from specific cubesats. Once received, students study and analyze the datasets to explore their chosen research topic. The deliverables are a presentation and poster detailing their project.

Some suggested topics are listed below:

Topic: Cubesats in General

  1. For a currently active cubesat, document its mission, history, telemetry data streams.
  2. Schedule observations for your chosen satellite on local and remote SatNOGS stations. Compare and explain the results.
  3. Compare time series telemetry data from your satellite and explain the variations.

Topic: Cubesat Missions

  1. Research and document the range of scientific missions for university cubesats.
  2. Propose a scientific mission for a cubesat. What hardware and software would it require?
  3. Document the components required. Estimate the H/W budget using COTS components.

Topic: Cubesat Communications Technology

  1. Document the various modulation techniques capturing a waterfall of each.
  2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each.
  3. Why are good signals from a cubesat not decoded? Have other stations decoded data successfully from that cubesat?
  4. For signals not decoded, try passing the downloaded audio files through outboard software decoders. Try adjusting the decoder parameters and document the results.

Topic: Cubesat Communications (Morse Code)

  1. Find several cubesats that transmits telemetry data on Morse Code beacons. Pick both weak and strong signals. Decode the message by listening to the audio files. Compare your results with those produced by the SatNOGS decoder.
  2. Pass the audio files through outboard decoders. Adjust the parameters to improve the accuracy with weak signals.
  3. Explain how the number of words per minute (WPM) impacts accuracy.

Topic: Orbital Physics

  1. Explain how cubesats are placed in orbit? What keeps them in orbit? What is orbital decay?
  2. Explain and illustrate the different types of orbits.
  3. What are the orbital elements?
  4. Explain TLE’s (Two-Line Element sets) and how they are used to predict satellite position.
  5. Pick a random data and time. How many satellites (cubesats, commercial, other) are in view? Plot on a sky chart.

Topic: Ground Station Antennas

  1. Illustrate the properties and patterns of different antenna designs.
  2. Explain antenna polarization.
  3. Find and document the various antenna designs used by SatNOGS stations.
  4. For several satellites, compare the waterfall diagrams with the sky plots (describing the satellite’s pass overhead). How do they relate to the antenna’s properties?

Lesson plans for these topics are in development and will be published here as available. Please contact me for more information.

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