Coming to a classroom near you ..

2nd August 2013 at 01:00
Long lens into space, Creating a community telescope

Despite the wonders of space offering more subject matter than any teacher could possibly explore in one lifetime, it can often seem that the majority of science teaching on the topic is limited to mnemonics concerning the order of the planets in our own solar system and the odd lesson on Neil Armstrong.

Fortunately, all that could be about to change: the US company Planetary Resources is planning to bring space into classrooms like never before by giving the public access to a technologically advanced, soon-to-be orbiting telescope called Arkyd. Designed to take photos of objects in space, Arkyd also has a camera arm that enables images of the telescope to be captured as it orbits Earth.

The project has been part-financed through crowdfunding website Kickstarter.com, on which 17,614 people - including celebrities such as Sir Richard Branson - pledged $1,505,366 (pound;996,103).

Educational establishments that have already backed the campaign will be the first in the world to control the space telescope when it is launched. Students and teachers will be able to send requests from their classrooms to the telescope to take photographs of any object in space other than the Sun. In addition, participating schools will receive packs of teaching resources to help them harness the educational potential of their access to the telescope.

Children will also be able to take a "space selfie": your class could upload a picture to the satellite, which would appear on an external screen. Then, using the on-board camera, the satellite would take a photo of your picture hovering above the Earth.

Chris Lewicki, the president and chief engineer of Planetary Resources, hopes to "inspire a new generation about space" with this project. Certainly, Arkyd has the potential to revolutionise the way the subject is taught in schools. Not only will it enable a real-time, student-controlled view of our solar system and beyond, but it will also be used to teach important lessons about technology and space exploration, with the students learning how the satellite was launched and how it works.

The Kickstarter.com campaign has officially finished but it's still possible to donate and to participate in this project through the company's website (www.planetaryresources.com).

Until the satellite is launched (there is no word on when this will be as yet), students can whet their appetites by downloading a PDF blueprint that can be made into a model of the satellite.

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Email jon.severs@tes.co.uk

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