AE Unit 8: Orbits

An investigation of orbital mechanics and orbital modeling

ORBITS OVERVIEW

Now that we’re turning our attention to space, it’s important that we understand what types of orbits we can use to monitor or travel around our own planet or around others! In this unit you should be learning:

  • The types of orbits and what they are used for
  • The math and physics behind orbits and the energy of orbiting bodies
  • How aerospace engineers plan and model orbits in real life

Our conversation about orbits will start with vocabulary and descriptions of orbits, as well as detailing the purpose of using each different kind.  We’ll then dig into some of the math and physics behind orbits before digging into the Systems Tool Kit (STK) software for modeling orbital paths.  As you investigate orbits, you’ll go through three major steps:

  • STEP 1: Learn to identify and describe orbits of different types
  • STEP 2: Practice some of the math and physics behind orbital mechanics
  • STEP 3: Use STK to plan and investigate different orbits

When you’re all done, you’ll have the vocabulary, math, and modeling skills to investigate orbits of different types. You will also have looked at the orbital paths for the Malemute Mars Mission!

PART 1: BASIC ORBITS

(10 pts) About 2 days

The first part of learning about orbits has to begin with some vocabulary and basic science.  In this first part, we’ll introduce the different levels of orbits (LEO, MEO, HEO) as well as the different shapes that orbits can take.  We’ll then consider what jobs each of those orbits can do and why we use them.

PART 2: ORBITAL MECHANICS

(30 pts) About 3 days

Once the basics are out of the way, we need to look more closely at the mechanics of orbital paths.  We can use math and physics to describe orbits in different ways and to investigate orbit-specific parameters like potential and total energy, mass, and energy for orbital changes!

PART 3: STK MODELING

(30 pts) About 4 days

Finally, we’ll look at the actual software engineers at places like NASA and Space-X use to model orbital paths.  We’ll learn how to use that software, find out when we can view the ISS,  and use it to plan orbits for the Malemute Mars Mission.

Part 1: Basic Orbits

Learn to classify orbits by their shape, elevation, and purpose

Orbit Summary

The first thing to cover in this unit is the basics of orbits. In this part, you’ll look at how different orbits are identified.  You’ll look at orbits of different elevations, different shapes, and different purposes.  These definitions and information will help us later as we plan out the orbits for our own surveying satellites.

GRADING & PROCESS

Take 1 full page of detailed notes on orbit types and descriptions

 Take 1 full page of detailed notes on special orbits

 Have Mr. Benshoof confirm your notes on orbits

Orbit Types

Orbit Descriptions

Special Orbits

What’s Due In Part 1: Basic Orbits

  • Orbit Types
  • Special Orbits
  • Mr. Benshoof’s Confirmation

Here’s what’s due in Part 1: Basic Orbits

  1. Take a full page of careful notes on orbit types & descriptions
  2. Take a full page of careful notes on special orbits
  3. Have Mr. Benshoof confirm your notes

Part 2: Orbital Mechanics

The physics and mathematics behind orbital properties

Orbital Mechanics Equations

Now that we know what kinds of orbits are available to aerospace engineers, it’s time to see some plotted out.  In this unit, we’ll use math and physics to describe the path and energy of objects in orbit.  For example, we’ll use what we know about trigonometry and sine waves to describe the period and inclination of the orbit.  We’ll also use our algebra skills along with some physics equations to calculate the energy needs of objects in orbit.

These ideas will pair well with the Systems Tool Kit (STK) software.  We’ll get our first experience with this modeling software that will let us define orbits and investigate the path of satellites.  Together, this math and physics will give us the tools to carefully describe orbits of different kinds before we think about space travel and our mission to Mars.

GRADING & PROCESS

 Take careful notes on the math and physics of orbital mechanics

 Complete the Orbital Mechanics Assignment

 Use the Orbit Tuner to create some basic orbits around Earth

 Have Mr. Benshoof check-off your completed assignment & orbits

Orbital Mechanics: Math

Orbital Mechanics: Paths

Orbit Tuner

What’s Due In Part 2: Orbital Mechanics

  • Orbital Mechanics Notes
  • Orbital Mechanics Assignment
  • Orbit Tuner
  • Mr. Benshoof’s Confirmation

Here’s what’s due in Part 2: Orbital Mechanics

  1. Take careful notes on the math & physics of orbital mechanics
  2. Complete the Orbital Mechanics Assignment
  3. Create orbits with the Orbit Tuner
  4. Have Mr. Benshoof confirm your assignment

Part 3: STK Modeling

Use official orbit modeling software to create orbits on Earth & Mars

STK Reference Sheet

All year long we’ve seen how aerospace engineers use simulations to model complex things.  Orbits around Earth and other celestial bodies are no different: we need a simulation to plan out orbits.  The Systems Tool Kit (STK) is the same software used by organizations like NASA and Space-X to plan the orbits for satellites, shuttles, and the ISS.  This same software can be used to model orbits not just on Earth, but on other planets like Mars too!

For the final part of this unit, you will learn how to use some of the features of STK to create and model satellites.  You’ll also be able to find the International Space Station and discover where to look in the sky to actually see it!  Finally, we’ll use these tools to plan some surveying orbits around Mars for the continuing Malemute Mars Mission.

GRADING & PROCESS

 Take 1 page of detailed notes on the STK Software

 Complete the STK Tutorial

 Complete the “Where is the ISS” challenge

 Plan surveying orbits for the Malemute Mars Mission

 Have Mr. Benshoof confirm your challenge and orbits

STK Tutorial

Where is the ISS?

Malemute Mars Mission: Phase 2

What’s Due In Part 3: STK Modeling

  • STK Notes
  • STK Tutorial
  • Where is the ISS?
  • Mars Surveyor Orbits
  • Mr. Benshoof’s Confirmation

Here’s what’s due in Part 3: STK Modeling

  1.  Take detailed notes on the STK Software
  2.  Complete the STK Tutorial
  3. Complete the “Where is the ISS” Challenge
  4.  Plan Mars Orbits
  5. Have Mr. Benshoof confirm your challenge and orbits

Double Check: Unit Expectations

Check what you need to have completed by the unit deadline

The purpose of this unit is to describe the different characteristics of orbits, and to give us some experience with the actual modeling software aerospace engineers use to work with orbits and planning space flights.  It’s pretty cool stuff.  By the end of the unit, you should have learned some good vocabulary to describe orbits, some of the math to help define orbits, and finally how to use some modeling software to simulate and investigate orbits!

Engineering Notebook:

(Part 1) You should have taken detailed notes on types of orbits, orbit descriptions, and special orbits

(Part 2) You should have taken detailed notes on the math and physics for defining orbits

 (Part 3) You should have taken detailed notes on how to use the STK Software

Building & Making:

(Part 2) You should have completed the Orbital Mechanics written assignment

(Part 2) You should have completed the Orbit Tuner challenge

(Part 3) You should have finished the “Where is the ISS?” challenge

 (Part 3) You should have planned your surveyor orbits for the Malemute Mars Mission

Checkpoints & Quizzes:

(Part 1) Mr. Benshoof should have confirmed your notes on all the orbit topics!

(Part 2) Mr. Benshoof should have checked-off your Orbital Mechanics assignment

(Part 3) Mr. Benshoof should have confirmed your challenge and orbits