Engineer a Satellite

Grade Level: 6-12

Source: NASA. Adapted with permission.

Is the ozone hole getting smaller? How much rain is in the cloud of a hurricane? How much sea ice is melting in the Arctic? For over 50 years, NASA scientists have been asking questions and collecting data from space-based satellites to study Earth’s changing environment. Engineers and scientists are essential partners in this process. From the scientists’ questions, engineers help design instruments to get the measurements needed to help answer these questions.

Just as you can use data from a thermometer, barometer, and a hygrometer to get a clearer picture of the weather, scientists use a variety of instruments to get the big picture of our Earth system. Since one satellite can only carry a few of these instruments, multiple satellites are used to collect data over the entire globe every day.

In this activity, you will select the scientific instruments for your satellite, calculate the power requirements for all the subsystems, and construct a scale model of your very own Earth observing satellite. Note to teachers: See the full activity online.*



  1. Go online to the activity web site ( and learn about the electromagnetic spectrum and Earth observing satellites. This site also includes additional instructions and information for your teacher and a Satellite Engineering Worksheet.
  2. Select up to three instruments for your satellite.
  3. Select up to three instruments for your satellite.
  4. Determine the required capacity of the battery and size of solar array.
  5. Construct a scale model.

* Full activity at