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How do you put a telescope in space?

Suitable age range: 7-11 years

Curriculum topics: Curriculum areas: space, light and observation; D&T.

Specific workshop information

Planning and preparation

This workshop is based on the ‘Pack Your Payload’ and ‘Deep Space Decoder’ activities from the 'Deep Space Diary’ resource for KS2 and equivalent.

A worksheet will be available to download by 30 June 2021. This will need to be printed, with one telescope parts sheet and one payload sheet for each pupil or group. The activity can be completed by individual students but will work best with students working in pairs or small groups of up to 5. 

  • Equipment per student – Scissors, tape / glue stuck, paper
  • Equipment per group – Telescope parts sheet + Payload sheet

Session details

  • Introduction to space telescopes - (8 min) – The presenter will ask children to think about what they’d like to know about space, before explaining that astronomers want to know these things, too, and that we need technology like the Hubble and Webb space telescopes to find the answers. The presenter will explain that Webb, which is launching in October, is as big as a tennis-court and must travel to space in a rocket which is much smaller than that. They will ask the children to suggest how engineers might solve this problem and explain that the real telescope will need to fold up for launch and then self-deploy in space. Teachers may choose to discuss space questions before the session, and will be asked to enter some of the children’s answers in the Zoom chat box.
  • Space telescope parts – (7 min) – The presenter will discuss the main parts of the Webb telescope (mirrors, sunshield, solar panels, detectors, communication antenna) and what they do in turn, giving children time to cut these shapes out of the handout. They will note that the real telescope parts were made by engineers and scientists all over the world working together, including lots here in the UK. Depending on pupil ability, teachers may choose to cut the shapes out prior to the session, giving one set to each group. Pupils could then use this time to take bullet notes on the information about each telescope part.
  • Deployment sequence – (8 min) – Students will be asked to talk in their pairs/groups about what order they think the telescope parts will need to fold out after launch. They’ll need to think about which parts need to be used first and also which parts work together. They should arrange the paper cut-outs in the order they want their space telescope to deploy. The presenter is available to answer questions from classes submitted through the chat box. Depending on pupil ability, teachers may choose to cut out the descriptions of each part from page 3 of the worksheet to the groups to help with their discussion.  
  • Packing the payload – (12 min) – Groups will next be asked to think about how to pack up the pieces of the telescope so that they fit into the ‘payload’ section of the handout. It will need to fold out neatly and in a way that will allow the sequence decided on in the previous step. They can use tape or glue to connect pieces and use more paper to create linking pieces if necessary. They can use methods such as folding, springing, pushing/pulling, rolling or hinging. Depending on pupil ability, teachers may choose to have students practice creating the various deployment actions prior to the session and demonstrate how to make hinges and springs out of paper.
  • Ready to launch! – (10 min) The session will conclude with a video showing how the real Webb telescope will deploy after launch and a discussion of the amazing science it will do, looking at planets, exoplanets, stars and galaxies. Classes may like to share images of their telescope creations with us and other participants at by sharing on the Padlet link on the workshop or on Twitter @WebbTelescopeUK either during the session or afterwards. Teachers can also share any space questions for our experts to answer in these ways.
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