How Do Satellites Communicate?

Explore the ways satellites deliver internet access to millions of people around the world.

About the Activity

You and your family depend on the internet every day for activities like shopping, studying, entertainment, and much more. Your internet access probably comes through a wire or a cable underground that connects right into your house or school. For many people around the world, though, wired connections aren’t available to their homes. So how do they get internet access? From satellites in space.


How? Let’s find out!


There are two projects you can do as part of this activity.


First, there’s an augmented reality (AR) experience you can check out. Explore a miniature animated model to learn about different parts of a satellite and how they work together so people in homes across the United States and the world can access the Internet.

Second, there’s a project you can do to simulate how internet signals transmit between homes and satellites. The transmissions take just fractions of a second, similar to the time it takes to blink. While you may not be able to communicate quite as quickly through this at-home exercise, you and a friend or family member can use a mirror and flashlights to mimic how satellites help people communicate.

Grades: 3-12
Topic: STEM
Estimated Time: 30 minutes

Brought to you by HughesNet®

Echo Star 105 Satellite

You only need a few things for this activity.

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Activity Steps

First, try the AR experience. Follow along with the onscreen pop-ups, interactive icons, and prompts to learn about the different parts of a satellite. Once you’ve explored the AR experience, you can apply what you learn to create a communications relay of your own with a couple of flashlights and a mirror.

Instead of relaying internet signals through space, you’ll send messages using Morse code, a standardized system of dots and dashes that represent letters and numbers. Similar to how satellites in space bounce internet traffic to and from Earth, you can shine a flashlight against a mirror in an on/off pattern to exchange coded messages with your partner.

  1. Start by reviewing the Morse code printout. Then, turn the flashlight on and off in short and longer bursts (“dots” and “dashes”) to “write” letters and spell out words using the code. Just by flashing the light against a wall, you can write a word, and then a short sentence. The “space” between letters in a word should equal one dash and the space between words, two dashes. Did you know? The concept of Morse code was invented in the 1830s by William Morse, who was also one of the inventors of the telegraph. The code was adapted and refined for practical use, and the International Morse code was published in 1865.
  1. Next, take your flashlights and a pencil and paper, and settle in separate, adjacent areas in your home; for instance, around the corner from one another, or in two separate rooms that share a doorway. Position the mirror in between, in a spot where you can both see it. You should be able to see each other in the mirror. Did you know? If you have satellite internet, when you type a website address (URL) into your browser, it sends a signal from your home's antenna (“dish”) to the satellite in space. Then, the satellite directs the signal to a gateway on Earth where it meets the internet and requests the website you typed. The signal then travels back to load the website on the screen. And all that takes place in fractions of a second.
  2. You’re ready to send a message to your partner! Jot down a short message using Morse code and then “send” it by flashing the dots and dashes into the mirror. Your partner should write down the dots and dashes and then decode the message. Did you know? Antennae on a satellite form hundreds of small ‘spot beams’ that carry data signals to and from people’s homes. They also send and receive signals from the gateways that connect with the internet so people who live outside the reach of cable and fiber internet services can enjoy all the internet has to offer.
  3. Now it’s time for your partner to send a response. It’s your turn to record the dots and dashes you see in the mirror and then decode the message using the Morse code printout. How did you do? Did you know? While Morse code has been in practice since the 1800s, “heliographs” have been in use for centuries, with ancient cultures reflecting the sun to send signals across long distances. If you were stranded on a deserted island, you might use a heliograph to bounce the sunlight and capture the attention of a passing boat.
  4. Once you’ve mastered the basics, try relocating the mirror farther away and sending messages again. You can even try without a mirror at all, by lighting up a space with short and long flashes of light. Did you know? Morse code fostered its own form of shorthand. For example, “GM” was used for “Good Morning,” and “73” was the signature, “Best Regards.” If you were communicating in Morse code today, you might use “LOL” and “BRB,” like you would while texting.

Explore how satellite internet works in Augmented Reality (AR)

Scan this QR code with your phone to launch the AR experience.

Satellite AR QR Code

Reflection Questions
Bonus questions to inspire wonder.

  1. Can you predict how changes in technology might influence how satellites are built in the future?
  2. What are some of the ways that satellites affect your life? Can you imagine what a day would be like without satellites?
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Investigate and Explore
Take what you've learned to the next level to learn more and explore the possibilities.

Communication has come a long way since the early 1800s. Learn more about how satellites support internet communication by exploring the AR activity. You’ll see and hear how signals travel between people’s homes on Earth and satellites in orbit to connect them to the internet. Plus, you’ll see some of the amazing ways that a satellite powers up and navigates in space!

Person outside with flashlight on a starlit night

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