Orbiters & Space Probes

Overview of Space Orbiters

Dawn Of The Space Age

Sputnik 1 – Dawn Of The Space Age

In 1957 humanity took its first step outside of the Earth by using a R-7 ICBM Rocket, this was the first time a rocket was used for Space Science, following the invention of the first space capable V2 Missile which was the first man made object in space (during its vertical test flight in 1944).

Sputnik became the first artificial Satellite to orbit the Earth, sending a signal that could be detected by anyone below with the right monitoring equipment.

Since 1957 the number of Satellites has grown massively, providing people with the ability to communicate with people across the planet and including broadcasting Television, Internet, GPS and much more.

But it has not ended their Orbiters have been sent from the Earth to Orbit other planets, Comets, our Sun and even used to probe deep space.

Mars Orbiters

Topography of Mars by the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter

Topography of Mars by the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA)

Orbiters above the surface of Mars have shown that Mars while more hostile than Earth has many similarities. Both the topography and the Atmosphere share similar features and weather systems making the planet a prime candidate for looking for life on other Planets and possible places for human exploration.

On Mars you will be able to find:

First Image Of Mars

First photo of Mars by Mariner 4 Spacecraft, July 1965

  • Canyons
  • Volcanoes
  • Craters
  • Gullies
  • Channels that may have acted as rivers
  • Clouds and other weather patterns
  • Polar ice caps
  • Eclipses caused by Mar’s moon, Phobos

There have been 14 successful Mars orbiters since 1971, However there have been many flyby’s.

One of the biggest questions people have wondered about Mars since early Astronomers noticed its clouds, white polar caps and “Canals” in the 18th century leading to numerous theories and novels about life on Mars. In 2001 the 2001 Mars Odyssey orbiter travelled to Mars to map the water on Mars, its three main sensor instruments are:

The Thermal Emission Imaging System (View the Mars Odyssey Themis Gallery), which searches for minerals that only form in the presence of water; the Gamma Ray Spectrometer(GRS), that detects the presence of 20 chemical elements including Hydrogen on the surface of Mars to determine the existance of Ice water. And the Mars Radiation Environment Experiment (MARIE), to study the radiation environment on Mars.

Odyssey also worked as a communication satellite for the Curiosity and Spirit Mars rovers, relaying 85% of the data they collected back to Earth – find out more about X-band Radio Waves

Why do we need Orbiters and Rovers? Communications, even on Earth we now rely heavily on communication satellites to relay information around the globe, this can be seen in GPS devices, on your mobile phone and used in mobile games. On other planets and moons this is important as well. We use them to track the location of Rovers and communicate with them. Sometimes to point them towards interesting locations, check the health of Rovers and to get back photos and scientific data.

Play the Game

Objective – Move the TSO (Trace Gas Orbiter) into lower obit and take measurements.
This is an example of how you could make your own videos with Scratch, they are easy and fun – Scratch Coding
Start the Game – Click anywhere on the left to start. Press the Green Flag to restart the Game
How to Control – Press the Down Cursor Key to Move into Lower Orbit

More details about the Trace Gas Orbiter – Exploration.esa.int/mars/46124-mission-overview. Launch a Spacecraft from Earth to Mars – Marsquestonline.org/tour/welcome/flytomars/flytomars_host.html

Play the Game

Objective – Orbit Game. Land on the Moon or another planet, but beware of hitting the Sun
Start the Game – Click anywhere on the left to start. Press the Green Flag to restart the Game
How to Control – Left & Right Cursor Keys to Move
Tilt Sesnor – Press the Space Bar to Start. Use the Up & Down Cursor Keys to Control your Rocket

Further Materials, Resources & Information

Below you will find more resources and external websites related to this lesson.

Full STEAM Ahead – Space Exploration Education Grant

UK Space AgencyThis lesson has been produced as part of the Full STEAM Ahead Project with the UK Space Agency. We are one of eight organisations across the UK to be awarded to deliver and produce exciting new education outreach activities and projects. The UK Space Agency are delighted to be able to support these projects, which represent a diverse selection of cross-curricular activities that meet it’s education objectives in encouraging children to take up STEAM subjects, raise awareness of careers in space-related areas, and raise awareness of the UK’s exploration programme.


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