ACTS and BAT: Experimental Technologies Serving Education
This electronic field trip requires the collaboration of NASA, public television
and the men and women who fly the KAO. But it also requires another critical
connection: NASA's Advanced Communications Technologies Satellite, or ACTS,
and a custom-built Broadband Aeronautical Terminal, BAT. ACTS is an experimental
K/Ka satellite, launched by NASA to explore advanced communications and
to demonstrate pre-commercial applications. Over the past few years, ACTS
has prototyped high-bandwidth video, voice and data communications from
sites on the ground. The experimenters have worked with the Pentagon and
NBC News, as well as universities and government research agencies.
Now a new, steerable antenna, will permit full duplex, video, audio
and data transmission between the ground and an aircraft flying at 3/4
of the speed of sound, at a bandwidth of at least 384 kilobits in each
direction. The BAT antenna automatically tracks the ACTS satellite, and
allows an aircraft to fly anywhere in the Western hemisphere. Live
from the Stratosphere will be the first-ever use of this live two-way
video capability for broadcast television.
ACTS uses video compression/decompression technologies, and the resulting
signal will almost certainly not look like regular broadcast television-however
the bandwidth should exceed that which was used from the South Pole (seen
during last year's Live from Antarctica field trip.) We hope the
excitement of live interaction with the KAO compensates for any video
The educational aspects of Live from the Stratosphere are only
one part of the ACTS experiment, which also includes (1) demonstrations
of the remote control of scientific instruments aboard the KAO, including
the telescope, by astronomers, educators and students on the ground, via
an extension of the Internet connectivity (2) System Health Monitoring,
to check on the performance of equipment aboard the KAO from the ground
in real-time and (3) videoconferencing over the Internet will link the
KAO to sites in San Francisco and Chicago via CU-SeeMe (or similar) technologies.
All these functions are of great interest to the team designing SOFIA,
which is planned as the successor aircraft to the KAO. Advanced telecommunications
will make SOFIA far more accessible to scientists, educators and students.
(see page 58 for more on SOFIA)
The ACTS experiment also has applications to commercial aviation and
government airborne services, such as Wildfire Research and Disaster Assessment.
So when you travel aboard an airliner 5 years from now, engaging in an
interactive videoconference with the ground, or watch a forest fire brought
under control in record time, you'll be able to say that you participated
in the first demonstration of a breakthrough technology.
The BAT antenna has been developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory,
Pasadena, California. The satellite itself is manages by the ACTS Experiments
Office, NASA Lewis Research Center.
While the technology seems complex, the aim of the ACTS experiments
is profoundly human: to connect students to a inspiring educational experience
previously impossible. Scientist and author Arthur C. Clarke wrote that
at first any sufficiently advanced technology seems magical. To paraphrase
John F. Kennedy's comment about the race to the Moon, NASA and public
television choose to do things like this "...not because they are easy,
but because they are hard." We hope Live from the Stratosphere
gives you, as teachers, a unique tool with which to excite your students
about science and technology.
This page was created by
Tobin A. Snell and Joshua
Parker, seniors at Palo Alto High School, California.