Featured Simulation – Satellite Motion

Category : High School, Physics · No Comments · by December 28, 2014

Satellite Motion Simulation

Satellite Motion” is now available!

This interactive is designed to simulate the motion of a commercial satellite in orbit around Earth.  It was inspired in part by the movie “Interstellar”, but mostly by my previous life flying communication satellites.  In that job, we launched satellites first into low Earth orbit, then fired thrusters to achieve an elliptical transfer orbit, then again to achieve a geosynchronous orbit, where the satellites would facilitate communications around the globe.  When I first learned how to do this, I was shocked at how counterintuitive the whole process seemed.  It took a lot of thinking to convince myself how to fire thrusters to get the right orbit.

Although this simulation can be used at any level with any device, I had AP Physics C and iPads firmly in mind.  I needed a lab where my students tackled the ideas and equations of energy and orbits as well as Kepler’s Laws of planetary motion.  In prior years students would manually plot the position of planets, but this was extremely time-consuming and required very little conceptual thinking.  This new simulation should allow students to get straight to the concepts.

I have attached both PDF and MS Word versions of the “Satellite Motion Lab” suitable for AP Physics C students.  Enjoy the simulation and the attached lab, and please let me know if you have any ideas for improvement in the comments below!

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