Physics and Astronomy

Space Probe Launch

Your team of six space flight engineers has been selected by NASA to participate in the following mission simulation.

Purpose You are to launch a space probe (wiffle ball) accurately onto a hidden target to earn points by using teamwork, triangulation, and scale diagrams.
Participants A team of six Space Engineers: two Spotters S1 S2, two Mappers M1 M2 and two Launchers L1 L2.

Judges will provide:
- Four Space Probes (golfball wiffle balls with velcro on them!). A wiffle ball is used in golf putting practice. It is like a ping pong ball with holes in it. A bare wiffle ball has been covered, as best as possible, with velcro strips that are sticky on one side so that they stick to the ball's surface. By doing this, a majority of the ball's surface has been covered.

Teams will provide:
- Astrolab or theodilite (a protractor & drinking straw device used to spot and measure angles.)
- Elastic Band Launcher (Student Launchers must calibrate the launcher! See note below.)
- Meter Sticks, data communication sheets (triangulation scale diagrams), pencils
Note: Teams are required to design and build their own Astrolab, theodilite, and Launchers ahead of time. Teams who design, test, and spend the extra time calibrating their own equipment for competition will likely be the most precise and accurate, and therefore most successful.



  1. - Two Spotters S1 and S2 will be located at opposite ends of the barrier, about 4 meters apart. The barrier prevents launchers and mappers from seeing the target. They will use their own astrolab, theodilite or surveying device to calculate each wall end angle towards Olympia. Spotters will send these angles to their Mappers via their telemetry device, data communiaction sheets.
    - Two Mappers M1 and M2 will use the reported angles to calculate the position of Olympia using triangulation. They will pass on their scale model to the Launchers.
    - Two Launchers L1 and L2 will use the triangulated scale model to calculate their team's best probe launch trajectory. They will then launch three probes one at a time at Olympia. Best average score wins.
  1. Each team has 20 minutes.
  2. Only partners may talk together (i.e., spotters with each other, but spotters can't talk to their mappers or launchers.)
  3. Spotters only communicate their angles to mappers.
  4. Mappers only pass a scale map to launchers.
  5. No peeking over the barrier!!
  6. Each team does 8 launches: 4 hidden target launches and 4 visually assisted launches. The Olympia bulls-eye is graded, e.g., get inside the 10 cm ring = 10 pts; 50 cm ring, 5 points; 100 cm ring, 1 point. Bonus points are awarded for precision or clustering. No bonus points are awarded for scattered shots. The team with the most points wins. In the event of a points tie, the team with the most accurate scale diagram wins. Further ties will be resolved by judging the team's launcher based on its durability and creativeness.
Source London District Science Olympics: John Budge and Jon McGoey

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