Technology company Ardusat has launched a program to the public in partnership with commercial satellite company Spire that will allow customers to purchase "space kits" with programmable sensors to be put onto satellites.
The kits include an Arduino board, which is an inexpensive circuit board made for do-it-yourself electronics projects, along with a number of sensors that can be programmed to collect data pertaining to temperature, luminosity, and magnetic fields.
Sensors can be programmed using Arduino to test scientific hypotheses using data collected from satellite orbit such as discovering a relationship between El Nino and weather patterns in their area, writes Selena Larson for ReadWrite.
When students are ready, Ardusat will test their code for bugs and then bring the project to a Spire satellite. Each satellite has an "education payload," which is a set of sensors that is used for educational purposes and where the student projects will be.
Students have the capability to work with their projects in real time in order to collect any data, which allows classrooms to keep track of their experiment on a daily basis. Pre-programmed sensors are available, so that if students are unable to program Arduino, they will still be able to send sensors into space.
Referred to as "cubesats," the satellites are about the size of a softball and orbit the Earth around 2,000 kilometers above the surface for somewhere between 9 months and 2 years, at which point it re-enters the atmosphere.
"There aren't a lot of great STEM programs in education today, and it's not because there's a lack of materials—it's just that it's not engaging for students," Sunny Washington, president of Ardusat, said. "We'll want to capture the interest of these students early on, and make space accessible to them, so hopefully they'll be encouraged to pursue a STEM career."
While the kits themselves cost about $2,500 a piece, the curriculum and online resources are available free of charge. The company is also holding a science competition this year to begin on September 2 through a partnership with the Association of Space Explorers. The goal of the competition is to offer free space kits to 15 high schools as well as the opportunity to work directly with an astronaut.
"We're trying to encourage high school level people to take a look at science, technology, engineering and math, and see whether or not that's something that excites them for their future," John-David Bartoe, a retired NASA astrophysicist and treasurer of the Association of Space Explorers, said in an interview. "It gives them the opportunity to get a taste of a very interesting field, and a very cool opportunity to operate a real satellite."
The plan is to continue the competition on a yearly basis in order to low-income schools the opportunity to operate a satellite they could not otherwise afford to do.
Over 24 high schools already use Ardusat. The public launch makes the kits available to everyone.