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NASA’s BEST Students: Grades 3-5

Build a Satellite to Orbit the Moon

Use the engineering design process to build a satellite that can orbit the moon.

Grades 3-5 learners will be guided through a series of challenges that follow the engineering design cycle. Join NASA on an adventure through solving an engineering challenge to design and build a satellite to orbit the moon using simple materials.

To demonstrate an understanding of the Engineering Design Process while utilizing each stage to successfully complete a team challenge.

To design and build a satellite that meets specific size and mass constraints. It must carry a combination of cameras, gravity probes, and heat sensors to investigate the Moon’s surface. The satellite will need to pass a 1-meter Drop Test without any parts falling off of it.

Measuring, calculating, designing, evaluating


  • General building supplies
  • Bag of various sized buttons
  • 1 Mailing tube, oatmeal canister or other container (used as a size constraint)


  • Design Challenge
  • Ask, Imagine and Plan
  • Experiment and Record


  • Spend a few minutes asking students if they know what engineers do, then show the NASA’s BEST Students video titled, “What is Engineering”:
  • Using the Engineering Design Process (EDP) graphic on the previous page, discuss the EDP with your students:
    • Ask a question about the goal.
    • Imagine a possible solution.
    • Plan out a design and draw your ideas.
    • Create and construct a working model.
    • Experiment and test that model.
    • Improve and try to revise that model.



  • Share the Design Challenge orally with the students.
  • Have students ask questions and brainstorm ideas as a group, then break into teams to create a drawing of their satellite. All drawings should be approved before building begins.


  • Distribute materials for students to build their satellites based on their designs and specifications.
  • Ask teams to double check mathematical calculations, designs and models. Visit each team to make sure their model can fit within the size specification of the cylinder or box you are using.


  • Have student test their satellites by dropping them from a 1-meter height and to record their observations.


  • Have students inspect their satellite after the drop and rework their design if needed.


Engage the students in a discussion with the following questions:

  • List two things you learned about what engineers do through building your satellite today.
  • What was the greatest difficulty you encountered while trying to complete this satellite challenge? How did your team solve this problem?


Ask teams to bring back their satellite model for use at the next session. You may want to store them in the classroom or have one of the club facilitators be responsible for their safe return.