Enrich science and ICT with these activities that look at space travel and satellite communications, and invite pupils to make suggestions and offer solutions to hypothetical problems

This week’s primary enrichment activity looks at the future of space travel and asks pupils to consider what the priorities should be for the European Space Agency.

This week’s secondary enrichment activity looks at satellite communications and asks pupils to consider what would happen if the world’s satellites stopped functioning.

***Primary Enrichment***

Where shall we go, what shall we do?

Recently announced plans for the future of the European space programme include missions to the Moon and Mars as projects for consideration. The initiative is led by the French government who took over the presidency of the European Union on 1 July. They suggest that current priorities for the European Space Agency (Esa) are not ambitious enough and that if it fails to change its approach to space exploration Europe will fall behind other countries such as India and China and as a consequence will suffer economically. The next important meeting of all Esa member-state representatives will take place in November.

Some questions for your pupils to consider and discuss:

  • Invite children to form a ‘Space Mission Investigating Learning for Europe in Space’ (SMILES) group.
  • The purpose of the group is to discuss the future of space travel and to advise the European Space Agency.
  • What should be the priorities for European space research?
  • Where should we explore and why?
  • What benefits can you see for both young and older people resulting from space research?
  • Are there any arguments against space research that you consider are strong enough to postpone space research?
  • What will be the social consequences of successful space colonies on Mars or the Moon?


Advising the European Space Agency

Going further
When children have discussed the suggested topics and those other discussion areas that will naturally appear they could compile a summary report and send it to European Space Agency at:

ESA HQ 8/10, rue Mario Nikis, Paris, France

‘France plans revolution in space’

How to become an astronaut

Take your classroom into space

Linked Activity:

Activity 40, Drawing in space (pages 90-91) Primary Enrichment activities for Key Stages 1 & 2, Optimus Education.

KS2 Science ‘Considering evidence and evaluating

  • make comparisons and identify simple patterns or associations in their own observations and measurements or other data
  • use observations, measurements or other data to draw conclusions
  • decide whether these conclusions agree with any prediction made and/or whether they enable further predictions to be made
  • use their scientific knowledge and understanding to explain observations, measurements or other data or conclusions
  • review their work and the work of others and describe its significance and limitations. ‘

Learning and teaching Scotland

‘Science contributes to Environmental Studies by providing a context for stimulating and encouraging pupils’ curiosity to explore and understand the world around them.’

International Baccalaureate

Five essential elements ‘The five essential elements (concepts, knowledge, skills, attitudes, action) are incorporated into this framework, so that students are given the opportunity to:

  • gain knowledge that is relevant and of global significance
  • develop an understanding of concepts, which allows them to make connections throughout their learning
  • acquire transdisciplinary and disciplinary skills
  • develop attitudes that will lead to international-mindedness
  • take action as a consequence of their learning.’

***Secondary Enrichment*** What if?

The bits and pieces left after the Chinese satellite Fengyun-1C was destroyed in orbit may be a hazard to other satellites due to a change in the solar cycle. The activity of the Sun has a significant effect upon satellites, one effect being to hasten the break-up of space junk, which burns up on passage through the Earth’s atmosphere. An underactive solar cycle could keep thousands of pieces of Fengyun-1C in orbit for far longer than expected, which could mean more damage to satellites. ‘The more flux comes out of the Sun, the faster those pieces will decay back to Earth and get out of the way of other satellites,’ says research engineer David Whitlock of the NASA Orbital Debris Program Office at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, as reported to New Scientist.

Some questions for your pupils to consider and discuss:
Ask children to consider and discuss the range of communications available to us and the application of technology in the areas of communication and control. For example, satellite guidance systems for aeroplanes, emails, television broadcasts and so forth. When the discussion has developed ask them to consider the following:

  • Due to damage sustained from space debris, satellites that transmit emails via the internet fail.
  • The same damage instantaneously and without warning shuts down the satellite system responsible for geo-directional data and guidance for all aeroplanes throughout the world.
  • The technology for pipeline management of both gas from Russia and oil supplies from the Middle East fail because the control mechanisms cease to function without information fed from satellite communications.

What would be the real-time effect on the world immediately this failure in satellite activity happened?

  • What would the worldwide effects of satellite failure be in a week, a month and a year?
  • How would such an event affect their life?


Considering what happens when communication satellites stop functioning

Going further

Such an incident as multiple failures of the satellite functions we take for granted would clearly have serious results both in obvious ways and also in more subtle and unexpected ways – many traffic lights are controlled via satellite communications for example. Ask children to devise a ‘What if’ plan to deal with such an incident. What would need to happen? Who would be responsible for carrying out the plan? How would life carry on?

‘Weak solar cycle may keep more space junk in orbit’
Communications satellites

‘Mysterious source jams satellite communications’

Linked Activity

Activity 69, Satellites (pages 152-153) Enriching Science, Optimus Education.

‘ICT acts as a powerful force for change in society and citizens should have an understanding of the social, ethical, legal and economic implications of its use.’

Learning and teaching Scotland

Problem solving: ‘Teachers discuss some of the important non-mathematical outcomes of problem solving programmes that they have observed among their pupils. These include positive ‘can-do’ attitudes and a range of social skills that enable pupils to work well in groups. These are the kind of attributes that will be useful to pupils throughout their lives and will be particularly valuable to future employers.’

International Baccalaureate

Diploma Programme curriculum Group 3: individuals and societies

This e-bulletin issue was first published in July 2008

About the author: John Senior is the author of Enrichment Activties for G&T Pupils. He is a teacher with 26 years’ experience of teaching Gifted and Talented children, working with parents and carers as a consultant on high ability, and peer mentoring.