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  • In this activity, students use a scale model of the Earth and identify altitudes of various satellites. They then use a smaller object on a string to model gravity and satellite motion.

    By the end of this activity, students should be able to:

    • describe how far above the surface of the Earth satellites orbit
    • demonstrate different types of orbit
    • explain that the attraction of gravity always pulls satellites towards the centre of the Earth and that this force causes circular motion
    • demonstrate how a satellite will move in a circular orbit only if it is travelling at the right speed.

    "I LOVE LOVE this lesson activity. ... Can't wait to draw scale models with my class and have them understand gravity."

    Wendy Dumée, Teacher

    Download the Word file for:

    • introduction/background notes
    • what you need
    • what to do
    • discussion points
    • extension ideas.

    Download the Excel spreadsheet for scale distances in space.

    Related content

    Prior to this activity, explore some of the big science ideas and concepts behind gravity and satellite motion and also what it takes to launch a satellite (gravity, circular motion and atmospheric drag for starters).

    Activity ideas

    Get your students to turn their eyes to the night sky to observe natural satellites and to spot artificial satellites – like the International Space Station (ISS) – as they pass overhead.

      Published 27 March 2013, Updated 31 January 2024 Referencing Hub articles
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