Creating Next Generation Innovators Through Space Education

Peter Platzer

Peter Platzer is being honored as a Champion of Change for his accomplishments as a crowdfunding pioneer.

NanoSatisfi is a commercial satellite and education company using the inherent fascination with space to motivate students in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math.  By providing individuals with access to their own orbiting satellite for project-based learning, I believe that we can move the needle towards a new generation of innovators who are comfortable with cutting-edge technology, experimentation, and real data analysis to learn and solve problems.  I am also convinced that this focus on technology education is not something that should be available solely for a handful of the best or wealthiest students.  Girls and boys of every background and status should be learning the skills that will make them—and the United States—successful over the next thirty years, so that as an entire generation and country we have the technical skills, mindset, and passion to solve big problems. 

Right now is an exciting and critical time for the education sector in the United States.  As debates rage about standardized testing regimes and school districts struggle with funding, experiments with blended learning and online engagement are driving new ways of thinking about what makes an educational experience successful.  By leveraging technology that allows students to engage in content at their own pace, while using classroom time for richer student-teacher interaction and team-based projects, we now have pilot programs that offer a promising glimpse of a new paradigm.  At one end of this spectrum, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) currently operate outside of formal channels and exclusively online, but also incorporate an important person-to-person component that is organized by students themselves.  

NanoSatisfi has observed these trends and has taken the best of online learning combined with hands-on doing to create a program that we view as one model for the future.  We provide online learning similar to MOOCs, but rather than making it a discrete course with a beginning and an end, we provide “building blocks” that a student, teacher, or parent can move around and adjust based on individual needs.  We aim to make learning an exploratory process, while also bringing some glamor back to teaching. 

The process begins with our online satellite Control Center, where students obtain integrated access to the satellite programming interface, a library of pre-built applications, and instructional content. The more advanced student can skip introductory sessions to begin learning our more advanced sensors right away (such as the spectrometer) and start designing an experiment.  The beginner student can start with pre-coded applications that require pushing a few buttons and downloading space data to an Excel spreadsheet.  Any student can test their programming instructions, whether by validating through our system or testing on a satellite-compatible microprocessor attached to their laptop.  Using an Internet connection, students upload final instructions to the satellite via NanoSatisfi, track the satellite in orbit, and download their data for further analysis.

NanoSatisfi’s first four satellites are launching this year and we are releasing a beta version of our online platform this month.  We already have our first satellite fully booked through our supporters on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, which demonstrates the imaginative power of what we are doing at NanoSatisfi.  We are in conversations with a number of schools across California and Texas that will work with us to pilot our initiative during the Fall 2013 semester. Pilot schools will provide us with ongoing feedback that allows us to constantly improve our learning and engagement platform, as well as the sensors and capabilities of our satellites.

When I discuss NanoSatisfi in various forums throughout the United States, there is always someone who brings up the usability of satellites outside of the education sphere. NanoSatisfi does believe that there is very real competitive economic value for enterprise data collected from a constellation of satellites; in fact, it is a $16 billion industry. For example, the weather and climate industry could benefit from data acquired much more cheaply and frequently than current programs allow. In a time of budgetary constraints, we see our traditional billion dollar weather satellite programs delayed, on hold, or even cancelled. This creates an opportunity to provide innovative solutions based on our fast, flexible, and relatively affordable  satellite technology. Space weather is yet another example of the potential applications for our constellation of satellites.

At the same time, education is something that we strongly believe is important to America’s future. NanoSatisfi is committed to providing education in an engaging and inspirational way to students long into the future.

Peter Platzer is Co-Founder and CEO of NanoSatisfi.

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