Grade Range
6th-8th
Group Size
4
Total Time
45 minutes
Area of Science
Space Exploration
Physics
Key Concepts
gravity, orbit, velocity,
Credits
TeachEngineering logo

Overview

Students use water balloons and a length of string to understand how the force of gravity between two objects and the velocity of a spacecraft can balance to form an orbit. They see that when the velocity becomes too great for gravity to hold the spacecraft in orbit, the object escapes the orbit and travels further away from the planet.

Engineering Connection

Engineers and scientists make amazingly precise calculations so that a spacecraft's journey is timed exactly to reach the location where a planet will be at that time. Since Earth and Mars are always orbiting in their own paths, space travel from Earth to Mars might be compared to shooting a basketball into a moving hoop while standing on a moving platform. This requires that engineers think logically and use their math skills to forecast exactly where a planet will be located many months in the future.

NGSS Alignment

This lesson helps students prepare for these Next Generation Science Standards Performance Expectations:
  • MS-ESS1-2. Develop and use a model to describe the role of gravity in the motions within galaxies and the solar system.
This lesson focuses on these aspects of NGSS Three Dimensional Learning:

Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Developing and Using Models. Develop and use a model to describe phenomena.
ESS1.A: The Universe and Its Stars. Earth and its solar system are part of the Milky Way galaxy, which is one of many galaxies in the universe.

ESS1.B: Earth and the Solar System. The solar system consists of the sun and a collection of objects, including planets, their moons, and asteroids that are held in orbit around the sun by its gravitational pull on them.

The solar system appears to have formed from a disk of dust and gas, drawn together by gravity.
Systems and System Models. Models can be used to represent systems and their interactions.

Scientific Knowledge Assumes an Order and Consistency in Natural Systems. Science assumes that objects and events in natural systems occur in consistent patterns that are understandable through measurement and observation.

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Grade Range
6th-8th
Group Size
4
Total Time
45 minutes
Area of Science
Space Exploration
Physics
Key Concepts
gravity, orbit, velocity,
Credits
TeachEngineering logo
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