Space Travel and Communication
An Internet WebQuest on Space Communication

UniServe Science

Introduction | The Task | The Process and Resources | HyperText Dictionary


"On July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Mike Collins departed for the Moon. Four days later, Armstrong and Aldrin landed their Lunar Module in the Moon's Sea of Tranquility.

Never before had a single event been anticipated by so many people - reportedly 600 million transfixed viewers.

The Radiotelescope at Parkes in rural NSW was the most powerful receiving dish in the Southern Hemisphere and the only one to handle TVís broadband requirements. NASA had intended to use 'The Dish' as a 'back up' to its prime receiver at Goldstone, California. Due to a last minute change in the Apollo 11 flight schedule, the Parkes Radiotelescope became the only hope in conveying man's first steps on the Moon and those words 'Houston, the Eagle has landed'.

Armstrong and Aldrin landed their Lunar Module in the moon's Sea of Tranquility. Armstrong, and then Aldrin, stepped onto the surface and became the first humans to leave their footprints in the lunar dust.

The transmission had to overcome problems such as power outages and a freak wind storm."

... or so goes the story from the film The Dish.

More reliable accounts can be found at The Truth about the Dish (web site from Mike Dinn, former Director of the Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex), On Eagle's Wings: The Parkes Observatory's Support of the Apollo 11 Mission (from John Sarkissian, Operations Scientist at the Parkes Radio Observatory) and 40 Years of the Dish (from ABC Science).

The Task

If these were the problems encountered with communications from a relatively close neighbour, what are the problems facing communication in space today and in the future?

The Process and Resources

In this WebQuest you will investigate the difficulties associated with effective and reliable communication between satellites and earth caused by distance, radiation and solar activity. You will also investigate the electromagnetic spectrum to compare the various types of electromagnetic radiation and their usefulness in communication and space travel.

Phase 1 - Background: Something for Everyone

Use the Internet information linked below to investigate some background information before embarking on the tasks below.

  • The Magnetosphere - includes van Allen belts and terrestrial effects of magnetic storms
  • The Problem of Space Travel: The Rocket Motor - An electronic version of the book 'The Problem of Space Travel', some of the illustrations and tables have been omitted, chapters include 'The Travel Velocity and the Efficiency of Rocket Vehicles' and 'Long Distance Communications'
  • Communication channels - lecture notes from University College London, including 'The Electromagnetic Spectrum', 'Microwave link communication' and 'Satellite communication'
  • IPS - Educational - index of a series of occasional articles by IPS staff and their colleagues. Everything you always wanted to know about the Sun, space weather and much more.

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Phase 2 - Looking Deeper from Different Perspectives


1. Individuals or pairs from your larger WebQuest team will explore one of the topics below.

2. Read through the files linked to your group. If you print out the files, underline the passages that you feel are the most important. If you look at the files on the computer, copy sections you feel are important by dragging the mouse across the passage and copying / pasting it into a word processor or other writing software.

3. Note: Remember to write down or copy/paste the URL of the file you take the passage from so you can quickly go back to it if you need to to prove your point and so that you can reference your sources in your bibliography.

4. Be prepared to focus what you've learned into one main opinion that answers the Big Quest(ion) or Task based on what you have learned from the links for your topic.

Topic 1: Electromagnetic spectrum and communication

Use the Internet information linked below to investigate information specifically related to electromagnetic radiation:
  1. Outline the various bands of the electromagnetic spectrum.
  2. Compare radiowaves and microwaves.
  3. Explain why radiowaves and microwaves are the most useful parts of the electromagnetic spectrum for communication in space.
  4. Investigate the relationship between the length of a receiving or transmitting antenna and the wavelength (and frequency) of a particular form of electromagnetic radiation.

  • The Electromagnetic Spectrum - from the Online Journey Through Astronomy
  • The Electromagnetic Spectrum - introductory information on the types of waves that make up the Electromagnetic Spectrum and the technology used to detect them
  • How Radio Works - Antennas - an article relating the wavelength and frequency of electromagnetic radiation to the optimum length of a transmitting or receiving antenna
  • How the Radio Spectrum Works - an article discussing radio frequency and commonly assigned radio frequency bands
  • Absorption - atmospheric absorption and atmospheric transmission windows
  • Effects of Atmosphere - atmospheric transmission windows from Virtual Science Centre, Singapore (this site is slow to load)
  • Electromagnetic Radiation - from Virtual Science Centre, Singapore, includes breakdown of the microwave spectrum (this site is slow to load)
  • Infrared Windows - illustrates the protective nature of the Earth's atmosphere - what is transmitted? what is absorbed?
  • Remote Sensing - a primer on remote sensing including pages on Electromagnetic Spectrum and Absorption Bands and Atmospheric Windows

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Topic 2: van Allen radiation belts

Use the Internet information linked below to investiagte information specifically related to radiations and the van Allen radiation belts

  1. Describe the van Allen radiation belts.
  2. Account for the existence of the van Allen radiation belts.
  3. Describe how the van Allen radiation belts were discovered.
  4. Explain the effects of the van Allen radiation belts on communication.
  5. Explain the effects of the van Allen radiation belts on humans.
  6. Explain the effects of the van Allen radiation belts on space craft and their components.

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Topic 3: Sunspots and space weather

Use the Internet information linked below to investiagte information specifically related to sunspots and solar activity:

  1. Describe The Solar Cycle.
  2. Describe sunspots.
  3. Describe solar storms.
  4. Outline space weather.
  5. Examine the effects of space weather on communication, humans, space craft and their components.
  6. Account for Skylab's premature 'end of usefulness' and reentry.

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Topic 4: Distance and communication

Use the Internet information linked below to investigate information specifically related to distances in space:

  1. Contrast the relative time taken for space travel and electromagnetic communication within the Solar System and beyond.
  2. Account for the success of communications from the Voyager missions.

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Phase 3 - Debating, Discussing, and Reaching Consensus

You have all learned about different issues that affect communication and travel in space. Some questions to debate: What influences communication and space travel? What precautions must be taken when planning space travel and communication? Which part of the electromagnetic spectrum is most useful when developing satellites and earth-based receivers and transmitters? How can a knowledge of Earth's atmosphere be used to facilitate communication?

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Last Update: Monday, 30-Apr-2012 14:52:53 AEST