Satellite Communication Activity

First, watch this short five minute video for an introduction to this activity:

Now listen to this!

This is the actual communcation from a Czech satellite called VZLUSAT-1 as it was received by a LSTN ground station. The radio waves travelled about 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) before being picked up by this antenna (pictured to the right) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. This communication was only possible because the antenna was tuned to the right frequency of 437.240 MHz. MHz stands for Mega Hertz, and it means that the radio wave is repeating at a rate of 437,000,000 times per second. For some perspective, the sound wave from a person talking has a frequency of around 170 Hz, so just 170 times per second.

Wolbach ground station on a sunny day

This satellite communication was transmitted in a code called Morse code. Morse code dates back to the invention of the telegraph, and is still used today due to it's simplicity and versatility. The idea is each letter and number is represented by a combination of dots and dashes (short and long pulses).

Let's slow it down.

Using the chart on the right, do you think you can decode the message? Let's work as a team to figure it out. (number off the participants)

First letter:

Second letter:

Third letter:

Fourth letter:

Fifth letter:

Sixth letter:

Seventh letter:

Eighth letter:

Ninth letter:

Tenth letter:

Eleventh letter:

international morse code chartinternational morse code chart international morse code chart

Time to check your work!
The workshop leader will now assign you to breakout groups for you to help eachother make sure you've arrived at the right answer for your letter.

Putting it all together
Assign a note-taker. Starting with the first letter, each person should now say the letter they decoded from the message. The note-taker will read aloud the completed, decoded message!

Did you figure it out? Here's the answer in video form:

In case the video does not play, the answer is VZLUSAT1 TX0. The first part of the message is the name of the satellite. The second part "TX0" means roughly Transmission Mode = 0. This message is recorded by the ground station, and then for some satellites on the SatNOGS network is fed in to a dashboard so satellite operators can quickly check on the health and status of their satellite no matter what part of the world it is orbiting over.