A GOES-13 satellite image of an ongoing blizzard
Pictured: A GOES-13 satellite image captured at 17:45 UTC on January 2, 2014, depicting an ongoing blizzard across portions of the Ohio River Valley and the Northeast United States as cold air from Canada moves across warm air from the Gulf of Mexico.

Artificial satellite – a satellite engineered and produced by humans; that is, a man-made body orbiting a larger (not man-made) body in space.

Typically, the term “satellite” is used to refer to the multitude of powered but unmanned objects in orbit around the Earth, though the term can equally apply to spacecraft in orbit or artificial satellites in orbit around other planets.

Artificial satellites have discovered many uses in the modern era, including but not limited to: telecommunications, espionage, research, and navigation. These also range in shape and size from microsats, which are by definition less than one meter in diameter (including Sputnik, the first satellite ever launched), to large communications satellites which can be some twenty meters or more in diameter. Typically, however, satellites are classified by weight instead of size, due to the particular constraints of launching objects into various Earth orbits.

  • Landsat 8 – launched on February 11, 2013. The Landsat Program provides the longest continuous space-based record of Earth’s land in existence. Since 1972, Landsat satellites have collected measurements of Earth’s continents and surrounding coastal regions that have enabled people to study forests, food production, water and land use, ecosystems, geology, and more. The long data record allows scientists to evaluate the dynamic changes caused by both natural processes and human practices.
  • GOES – Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite – The GOES-R series of satellites will gather more weather information, in more detail and with greater accuracy than the current GOES. The first GOES-R satellite is planned for launch in early 2016. GOES-R satellites will also monitor the Sun (as do the current GOES) and give better warnings of solar storms that could damage power grids, satellites, and communications systems on Earth. GOES and the new GOES-R are also part of a global search and rescue system.

That’s engineering

  • geostationary orbit – Satellites in geostationary orbit, such as the current GOES and the future GOES-R, are “parked” above the equator. They orbit Earth just once a day. As Earth spins on its axis, a geostationary satellite always “hangs in the sky” over the same spot on Earth.

Engineering ideas

  • geostationary, orbit, microsat, satellite, measurement, record, imaging, accuracy

Do it
Here are some challenges for you to work on…

  • Play the GOES-R Satellite Insight game – you will have to think and move fast to keep up with the massive flow of different types of data being captured by a GOES-R satellite.
  • Design and build a satellite to float in our wind tubes!]] – build a satellite that can float for at least five seconds in a vertical wind tubes. Think about and explore the concepts of lift and weight as you try to adapt your satellite to hover between the lines.

Learn more…

  • DigitalGlobe’s WorldView-3 – a commercial Earth-imaging satellite (launched August 13, 2014), is sending back ultra-high-resolution pictures