A New Tech Wave?

Sinclair Research’s launch advertisement for the ZX81. Well-known advertisements like this one have been used to promote the ZX81’s benefits and value for money.

After teaching social studies for a few years, we started talking about personal computers. They could fit on your desk, were fully programmable to perform a variety of functions, and were priced from a few hundred to thousands of dollars and up. Their practical applications were hardly imaginable and were only perceived as a subset of a subset of nerd types.

I am now starting to wonder if we are on the verge of a new emerging and equally surprising technology, do-it-yourself satellites. That’s right, satellites in low earth orbit, built with off-the-shelf components and designed for scientific research.

nCube, 10cm CubeSat developed by university students in Norway.
nCube, 10cm CubeSat developed by university students in Norway.

They are called CubeSats, typically cubed about four inches and weigh about 3 pounds. They can be launched as part of the payload of commercial rockets or deployed from the International Space Station.

There are three reasons I think they might get into a high school (or middle school) near you.

  1. Our exploration of space continued with the exploration of the solar system by NASA with robotic spaceships and the successful rocket launches from commercial interests like SpaceX and many others. Our interest in space exploration remains high, according to a June 2018 report by Pew Research that reported that 72% of respondents believe the U.S. continues to be the world leader in space exploration. Another indication of an increase is a survey reported by Centauri Dreams that Americans think space exploration is a good investment, from 49.5% (1988) to 59.3% (2007) to 69.1% (2018) .
  2. Growing commercial interest in mining asteroids for precious metals and iron, cobalt and nickel for space construction; and weightless manufacturing.
  3. A likely increase in demand for professionals with knowledge and skills related to a space industry including: electronics, computing, geology, chemistry, astronomy, exobiology, engineering, astrophysics, and philosophy.

Some high schools have already started designing and building CubeSats, some already in orbit. Here is a list of start dates for nanosats.eu:

  • Thomas Jefferson High School of Science and Technology [LD:2013-11-20]
  • Max Valier Technical High School [LD:2017-06-23]
  • Woodbridge High School [LD:2018-11-11]
  • University high school [LD:2018-12-03]
  • Thomas Jefferson High School of Science and Technology [LD:2019-10-19]
  • IRIM – Croation Makers (Croatia) [LD:2020-12-31]
  • Ithica high school [LD:2020-12-31]
  • Aviation High School Raisbeck [LD:launch canceled]
    First high school team to develop, finance, build, test, market, and communicate with an imaging CubeSat and 3D printed case – using polyetheretherketone, PEEK.
  • Palos Verdes high school [LD:2020-12-31]
  • University high school [LD:2021-12-31]
  • Arnold O. Beckman High School [LD:launch canceled]
  • Valle Christian High School [LD:launch canceled]
  • University high school [LD:2021-12-31]

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