Grade Range
6th-8th
Group Size
3
Total Time
1 hours 30 minutes
Area of Science
Aerodynamics & Hydrodynamics
Space Exploration
Physics
Key Concepts
energy transfer, Newton's laws of motion, acceleration
Credits
TeachEngineering logo

Overview

Working as if they were engineers, students design and construct model solar sails made of aluminum foil to move cardboard tube satellites through "space" on a string. Working in teams, they follow the engineering design thinking steps—ask, research, imagine, plan, create, test, improve—to design and test small-scale solar sails for satellites and space probes. During the process, learn about Newton's laws of motion and the transfer of energy from wave energy to mechanical energy. A student activity worksheet is provided.

Engineering Connection

Aerospace and mechanical engineers design spacecraft, satellites and rockets to travel into space. While rockets are the most common method of space propulsion, their weight and fuel capacity make them inefficient for long-range space travel. Thus, to enable exploration into far and unknown regions of space, engineers are challenged to create new propulsion methods that can more effectively move satellites and space probes over long distances. One emerging technology—the solar sail—transfers wave energy from light into mechanical energy to enable prolonged propulsion at high speeds for small satellites. In this activity, students experience the stages of the engineering design process as they design and test model solar sails to support deep space exploration goals.

NGSS Alignment

This lesson helps students prepare for these Next Generation Science Standards Performance Expectations:
  • MS-ETS1-4. Develop a model to generate data for iterative testing and modification of a proposed object, tool, or process such that an optimal design can be achieved.
  • MS-PS2-2. Plan an investigation to provide evidence that the change in an object's motion depends on the sum of the forces on the object and the mass of the object.
  • MS-PS2-1.. Apply Newton's Third Law to design a solution to a problem involving the motion of two colliding objects.
This lesson focuses on these aspects of NGSS Three Dimensional Learning:

Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Developing and Using Models. Develop a model to generate data to test ideas about designed systems, including those representing inputs and outputs.

Planning and Carrying out Investigations. Plan an investigation individually and collaboratively, and in the design: identify independent and dependent variables and controls, what tools are needed to do the gathering, how measurements will be recorded, and how many data are needed to support a claim.

Scientific Knowledge is Based on Empirical Evidence. Science knowledge is based upon logical and conceptual connections between evidence and explanations.

Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions. Apply scientific ideas or principles to design an object, tool, process or system.
ETS1.B: Developing Possible Solutions. Models of all kinds are important for testing solutions.

ETS1.C: Optimizing the Design Solution. The iterative process of testing the most promising solutions and modifying what is proposed on the basis of the test results leads to greater refinement and ultimately to an optimal solution.

PS2.A: Forces and Motion. The motion of an object is determined by the sum of the forces acting on it; if the total force on the object is not zero, its motion will change. The greater the mass of the object, the greater the force needed to achieve the same change in motion. For any given object, a larger force causes a larger change in motion.

All positions of objects and the directions of forces and motions must be described in an arbitrarily chosen reference frame and arbitrarily chosen units of size. In order to share information with other people, these choices must also be shared.

For any pair of interacting objects, the force exerted by the first object on the second object is equal in strength to the force that the second object exerts on the first, but in the opposite direction (Newton's third law).
Stability and Change. Explanations of stability and change in natural or designed systems can be constructed by examining the changes over time and forces at different scales.

Systems and System Models. Models can be used to represent systems and their interaction—such as inputs, processes and outputs—and energy and matter flows within systems.

Influence of Science, Engineering, and Technology on Society and the Natural World. The uses of technologies and any limitations on their use are driven by individual or societal needs, desires, and values; by the findings of scientific research; and by differences in such factors as climate, natural resources, and economic conditions.

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Grade Range
6th-8th
Group Size
3
Total Time
1 hours 30 minutes
Area of Science
Aerodynamics & Hydrodynamics
Space Exploration
Physics
Key Concepts
energy transfer, Newton's laws of motion, acceleration
Credits
TeachEngineering logo
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