Session 4 Space Junk!

Today we are going to look into one of the great challenges that faces the International Space Station and all of our satellites orbiting earth. SPACE JUNK!

The “proper” term is space junk is debris.  This word originated in France to mean to “broken down”.  Because it’s French we don’t voice the “s” at the end.  

The work “junk” means, “old or discarded articles of any kind”.  

In this first video, we are going see how space debris impacts the astronauts and satellites.

As you can see, Space Debris is a big problem and just getting worse if we don’t do something…. Currently the military is tracking the more than 500,000 piecesof debris that orbits Earth. This debris can be going up to speeds up to 17,500 mph, which makes just a fleck of paint dangerous!! 

Teamwork Activity

Many scientist and engineers are trying to solve the problem of Space Junk.  Teamwork is very important when you are trying to solve a problem.  Before we solve the problem of Space Junk, let’s work on our teamwork!

What are some characteristics of good teamwork? Listening, Communicating, Different ideas or viewpoints, Supportive, Understanding…

What are characteristics of when teamwork doesn’t work well?  Bossy, not listening to others ideas, one person takes over…  

Your team’s mission is to save the astronauts on the ISS. There is space debris coming towards them at 18,000 mph.  Your team must devise as way to move the debris out of the path of the ISS.  You may only use the supplies given.

Supplies:  Rubber bands of different sizes, string (at least long enough to cut up and use for every kid) and scissors.  Distribute the “resources” unevenly.  Set up the Lego box in the center to represent a safe orbit for the junk.

Goal: Move the space debris from the orbit of your table to the “lower” orbit (the Lego Box in the Center) so that it will fall back to earth and disintegrate.  

Space Debris….with masking tape

Constraints: You can not touch the space debris with your hand or any body part at anytime. Only the equipment supplied can touch the space debris.  All team members must be touching the device usedto transfer the space debris while it is moving into the new orbit.

Each table has different resources, just like each country has different resources.  You may need to talk to different countries for resources you may need to accomplish your mission. 

Remember your teamwork skills and engineering skills.  Remember there are no “right” ways to solve this problem.  Start by getting ideas from all your team members before you start building.  You have 5 minutes to accomplish this.

Share your method with the other teams, what makes your team’s solution unique from the others.  State what went well with your teamwork?  What could you improve on next time? Take a picture!

Here are some examples of how different teams came up with different methods to solve this problem.

Cup and Chopstick method

Yarn ball and rubber band
Coffee stick and rubber band
Coffee cup and stick method

Problem Solving

Now we are going to look at some of the ideas that scientists are developing to deal with Space Junk

Let’s list some of the ideas that scientist have so far:

  1. Lasers
  2. Nets
  3. Sails
  4. Slingshot
  5. Tether

Your mission today is to design and build a device that will help clean up space debris.  

First, what is the type and size Space Junk you are going after?  Pick a satellite that you built previously or build a quick piece of Space Junk.

 Your device needs to have a moving part that can “launch, attach, insert action here”to the debris. This moving part can be powered by a rubber band or power function motor.  

Remember the Process!!!!!!
  • Start by brainstorming ideas with your group
    • Find your Space Junk. Is it a Lego Ball? Is it an old Satellite? First step is to figure out what the problem you are trying to solve is…
    • Think about the previous methods. Lasers, tethers, nets, torpedos, sling shots, What method interests your team?
    • There are sheets of Lego Ideas to launch things attached below.
      • Remember, you can substitute different colors and parts
      • Make it fit your space junk and what you want it to do!
  • Draw out your plans
  • As a team, vote on which designs might work best
    • Or would a combination work?
  • Collect Supplies
    • Work as a team, one team member stays with the building plans and describes the pieces needed
    • Everyone else should be involved in gathering supplies (Legos)
  • How does your team want to build? What is a way that everybody can be involved?
    • Maybe, place three pieces and then switch?
    • Come up with a plan that will work for your team that includes everybody
      • Some people may not be as fast of builder as you, this is an important time for them to learn the building skills
      • Can you support the “builder” with lining up supplies?
  • Once the first version is built, test it!!!  Take a picture!
    • Everyone should experiment with the build
    • After everyone has had a turn go around the team and talk about what could be improved. (Remember the engineering process!!)
  • Expect to improve it two to three times!!!!
    • Document your improvements with a picture
  • Prepare a short presentation on your build
    • Give your build a name
    • How does it work?
    • What problems did you find with the first build?
    • How did you improve it?
    • How did you use everybody’s ideas? 
    • Everybody will need to talk about some aspect of the build.
      • Give everybody a part
    • Take a picture of the final build!!!!

Here are some inventions that the Tuesday Group came up with!

The whacker.
The thrower
The torpedo

Here are ideas from the Wednesday Group

Rubber band launcher
Spinner design


Today we explored problems of space junk and designed different ways to make the universe better for all.  Remember it take teamwork, responsibility for our mess, and communication.  Scientist don’t have all the answers…that’s why we are always striving to improve our ideas because you never know where or when the next big invention or idea will come from, MAYBE YOU!!!!!!

Wednesday Lego Engineering Club

Build Ideas:

One thought on “Session 4 Space Junk!

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