Frequently Asked Questions

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Plus What is ThumbNet?

ThumbNet is a project to interest students around the world in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) concepts by using manual or automatic tracking stations and a laptop computer to monitor satellite communications.

Students working together around the planet, become a community and a global radio tracking network is established that can be used for continuous coverage and support of satellite operations by the ThumbSat team.

Plus What is the benefit to my school?

The benefit to the school will be an additional tool in your curriculum that can be used to help generate interest in your students about topics that they might not normally find interest in, such as math, physics, radio technology, engineering and space.

Additionally, the school should benefit from the collaboration with other schools around the world, who are also participating in the ThumbNet project. The school is recognized on the ThumbSat website and may benefit from some minor advertising we do during the project.

Finally, there is a possibility that the project could generate some small revenue stream for school or community.

Plus How will my students benefit?

The benefit for the students is new opportunities to learn about and master topics that benefit all of mankind.

We are specifically asking schools for support instead of established radio operators or space oriented groups, in order to create new interest in the young people who will become the engineers and scientists of tomorrow.

Of course, everyone is welcome to participate. However, we prefer people with little or no previous experience or exposure to these ideas. People who will see things from a fresh perspective and should contribute valuable feedback to the project and make a positive impact on their lives and the rest of the community.

Plus What is the expected project lifetime?

The project is currently being planned and budgeted for a 25 year timeline, but there is no reason to believe that it can't remain operational indefinitely.

Plus How much time must we devote to the project?

Since the station is capable of operating completely automatically, the amount of time you spend with it is entirely up to your staff, volunteers and students.

With a strong response from the students, the school may decide to manually operate the station as an after-hours club and may choose to operate the station an hour a day for 4 or 5 days a week.

Or maybe the station is only used by the students once a week for 30 minutes and the remainder of the time is operating in fully automatic mode.

We have found that once the station is operational, students want to spend several hours a week listening to various radio sources and exploring different frequencies.

Plus Can you give examples of how we might incorporate ThumbNet into our curriculum?

The point is for the students to explore and think about space, radio communications and technology.

Examples of how the school might promote learning new ideas would be for the club to experiment with building different style antennas for the station and comparing them for sensitivity. This would promote logic, math, radio concepts and mechanical assembly skills.

The following week, the club may decide that they want to listen to and record the astronaut communications on the International Space Station thereby teaching lessons on audio or signal processing and language.

The week after that, the students may decide that they want to download the data from orbiting weather satellites in real time and would be learning about meteorology, radio frequency polarization and global imaging.

Or they simply try to listen to other ground based transmitters.

The fun comes from getting the students experimenting!!

Plus How much is this going to cost my school?

The monetary cost to the school should be almost nothing.

There are no fees or charges, and we are not asking you for any money or payment for the tracking system.

For the tracking station, we will provide a kit for the students to assemble as well as the radio receivers, the software and the procedures.

The materials for the high gain antenna consist of little more than a meter of wood similar to a broom handle, about 3 meters of stiff wire (copper, brass, aluminum, steel etc etc) and a few meters of coax type cable commonly used to hook a TV to a VCR.

We have found that in the vast majority of cases, all of these items are already laying around in your current maintenance office or shed. In which case, the cost to the school is nothing.

In the unlikely event that you must buy all of the components to make the antenna, we have found that they can be purchased at local stores for very little money. Typically less than $20USD for everything required.

We highly encourage experimentation and feedback into the system, (Check out the Rendezvous section!) to share ideas and constantly improve the process and reduce cost.

Plus Why would you give the hardware away for free? What's in it for you?

Similar to most people who become teachers and educators, we have a strong underlying belief that there is a global need to help the next generation of scientists, engineers, mathematicians, robotics specialists, astronauts, and other technical fields and we would be very proud to help teach them.

Additionally, we understand that school budgets around the world are always tight, and that educators frequently cannot add new programs to their curriculum, simply because there is no funding.

We do ask that when the school is not manually operating the station, that the system be set in automatic mode, to allow us to capture the data being transmitted from the ThumbSat satellites in orbit.

Plus What happens when the school is closed or we are no longer able to participate?

When the school is closed, or you have a small staff, you simply leave the tracking station in automatic.

If you decide that you are not interested in participating in the project any longer, we ask that you let us know so that we can collect the hardware and donate it to another group that is interested.

Plus I am a private individual and not a school. Can I still participate in ThumbNet?


We highly encourage everyone to get involved, and welcome anyone with an interest in participating and learning new skills.

While normally, we will only provide the hardware at no cost to educational groups, Send us a note and we can work with you to set up a station at your location.

Plus Do we need experience before we can operate the system?

Not at all!

We have a volunteer in a very, very small island nation in the South Pacific that was 12 years old when he started operating a ThumbNet station. He was interested in learning a new skill and within a few days he was recording weather satellite data for his part of the world, and listening to the astronauts on the International Space Station.

The reality is that we are looking specifically for people who don't have a lot of previous experience or knowledge. The system is simple and we have designed it to be understood by anyone with an interest in learning it.

Plus Do you have a list of other groups who are participating?

Of course we do!

If you haven't already done so, don't hesitate to check out the ThumbNet section of the website and see complete list of ThumbNet stations.

Then visit the Mission Control page and look at the upcoming, current and past ThumbSat flights.

And when your school is ready to fly its own experiments into space, visit the ThumbSat and Mission Builder pages and let us help you see why we say:

Tiny Satellite = Tiny Cost, Tiny Timescale, Huge Results