Aiming for awesome: satellite communications


Funded by the Chancellor using LIBOR funds

RAF 100: Aiming for Awesome celebrates the centenary of the RAF and explores its engineering achievements over the last 100 years. There are 10 resources, each covering a different decade of RAF history. Each resource allows Key Stage 2 and 3 pupils to explore, through hands on activities, the applications of the knowledge they learn in science, design and technology, mathematics and computing.

1968 - 1978 Satellite age

The aim of this resource is to give students the opportunity to investigate the impact of STEM on satellite communications.

Students will learn about the launch of the UKs first communications satellite, Skynet 1A, in 1969, and the issues faced by engineers.  To rectify the problems, engineers launched two further Skynet's 1B and 2A before finally launching Skynet 2B in November 1974 which was very successful and remained in service for several years beyond the timeframe originally planned.

Through practical activities and demonstrations students will understand the different types of satellites and the different waves used: radio waves and microwaves.

Student activities


Time to demonstrate: demonstrate how an event is broadcast around the world using satellites. Ask students how they would watch an event such as a Winter Olympics.  Start by asking a student to represent the event by standing at the front of the class, then continue to build up the satellite network with the different components by prompting students with questions such as how does the television receive the signal? What sends the signal to the satellite? How does the video get to the transmitter? for example.  

Radio waves and microwaves are types of electromagnetic radiation, like light. Light travels in straight lines and is reflected by shiny surfaces, like a mirror.  Satellite dishes use reflection to receive a signal, then reflects it to a small receiver on the front of the dish.  Use the light diagram provided to explain to students key words like the angle of incidence and the angle of reflection to allow them to carry out the following practical investigation.

Time to investigate: in this experiment (best conducted in a dark room), students will investigate the relationship between the angle of incidence and the angle of reflection.  The will log their observations in a table before using the data to create a graph, allowing them to state what the answer is and how they know. 


The activities are expected to last 60 minutes.

What you'll need

The following items per group:

  • LED torch with paper to create a single beam - try 'LED torch' product code 86-9627

  • Plane mirror - try 'plane mirror product code 52-3363

  • Protractor

  • Paper

  • Pencil

Student guide

The student version of this resource can be downloaded here: Satellite age - student guide

Supported by

  • Royal Academy of Engineering
  • RAF 100
  • 2018 YoE