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New Guide Promotes FUNcube-1's Educational Value


A new FUNcube guide developed by ARRL Education & Technology Program (ETP) Director Mark Spencer, WA8SME, aims to maximize the educational focus of the tiny AO-73 satellite. Spencer’s Pragmatic Guide for Using the FUNcube (AO-73) Materials Science Experiment in the Classroom prompts readers to dig beyond AO-73’s Amateur Radio transponder and telemetry uploads and downloads and “take a closer look at what is really going on” as the satellite orbits Earth. The diminutive spacecraft includes an AMSAT-UK-developed materials science experiment (MSE). Spencer’s guide helps teachers and students to analyze telemetry and apply the laws of thermodynamics to examine how heat is radiated into space from materials having different surface finishes.

“The primary mission of the FUNcube is education, and the MSE is the focus of that mission,” Spencer said. When it’s not in educational mode the spacecraft switches on an Amateur Radio SSB/CW inverting transponder (435.150‑435.130 MHz LSB up/145.950‑145.970 MHz USB down). “I know there is an ongoing discussion of the value of cubesat telemetry when compared to transponder operations,” he said. “[Y]ou just might find that an occasional look at the telemetry will help you better understand satellites and make you a better satellite operator.”

As Spencer explained, the FUNcube-1 MSE includes two separate experiments — one using the thermally isolated aluminum bars mounted on one face of the satellite, and the second using four aluminum bars that form part of the satellite’s body in the corners of the cube. MSE data are transmitted via a 2 meter downlink (145.935 MHz BPSK) and decoded and displayed by the AMSAT-UK Dashboard software.

“Collecting the data is only part of the education mission,” Spencer said. “The other — and more meaningful part — is interpreting the data.” That, he explained, starts with a thermodynamics refresher. “In the broadest terms, thermodynamics is the study of how heat moves from one place to another,” he continued. “The purpose of the FUNcube MSE is to allow students to witness heat transfer by radiation firsthand in an environment — space — where convection and conduction are not present.”

Spencer called the FUNcube MSE “an exceptional educational resource,” and he praised AMSAT-UK’s efforts. “It’s now our turn to gain as much as we can from their efforts, and I hope the Guide will help you get started.”

AMSAT-UK said its FUNcube project was designed “to create an educational CubeSat which is intended to enthuse, excite and educate students about radio, space, physics and electronics. It will also support educational science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) initiatives.” FUNcube-1 was put into orbit as a standalone 1U (10 × 10 × 10 centimeters) CubeSat. The follow-on FUNcube-2 will be part of the UKube-1 3U spacecraft.

Visit ARRL’s Classroom Library: Satellite Communications page, which includes a link to the new guide, for more information on bringing space into the classroom. AMSAT-UK has put out its own FUNcube Handbook to provide some practical advice to interested hams and classroom teachers on how to access and use the satellite’s onboard MSE.






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