One day, Edward Milne Community School student Triston Line sat around with a friend, spitballing cool ideas for school projects – something to do with space.
“Why don’t we hack a satellite?” both laughed, coming to the conclusion something like that would be complex, expensive, and, quite possibly, risky.
Then it clicked. Instead of “hacking” a satellite, why not just pick up data and radio waves it sends from more than 30,000 kilometres above.
Line teamed up with fellow EMCS Robotics Club member Rowan Hensley and amateur radio (ham) host and mentor Ross Pratt to devise an experiment.
“We’ve been working with a two-meter-long copper wire that was hanging out the side of Ross’s house,” Line said.
The data, taken from the satellite and then broadcasted back to Earth, was then picked up and processed through a mini-farm of 12 computers at Line’s house.
After the data got processed back and forth between Line’s computer farm and an EMCS computer, the result was a live image of the Earth, right out of space.
“What we’re doing is ham-type stuff, just pushing the boundaries,” Pratt said, who met Line at the school theatre during Cabaret rehearsals. Since then, Pratt has been the proverbial mastermind of the madness.
Now the group is ready for the next step: install a quadrifilar helical antenna on the roof of EMCS and get not one image, but a high-definition view of the Earth.
“It’s not the prettiest thing in the world, but it works,” Line said of the new antenna, which was stitched together out of plastic pipe and copper wire. Inside, a receiver transmits data to a USB unit plugged into a school computer, which then sends digital files to Line’s computer farm.
The whole idea is certainly about more than just satellites and antennas though.
“We’re here for student involvement and teach students to do something unique that they probably won’t do until their third year of university,” Line said.
He hopes the antenna will really take off and expand to more exciting, more complex projects, such as acquiring a dish that connects to a geosynchronous satellite (around the Earth) and get a full picture of the Earth from top to bottom.
“I would like to see this inspire a few kids, because you can go so many ways with it … you can go with geosynchronous satellites, radio astronomy, mapping meteors falling at the Earth, outer space, just endless possibilities,” Pratt said.