The INSPIRE Project


INSPIRE is a non-profit scientific, educational corporation whose objective is to bring the excitement of observing natural and manmade radio waves in the audio region to high school students. Underlying this objective is the conviction that science and technology are the underpinnings of our modern society, and that only with an understanding of science and technology can people make correct decisions in their lives, public, professional, and private. Stimulating students to learn and understand science and technology is key to them fulfilling their potential in the best interests of our society. INSPIRE also is an innovative, unique opportunity for students to actively gather data that might be used in a basic research project, as is being done with INSPIRE data taken during the 1992 flight of SEPAC (Space Experiments with Particle Accelerators) on ATLAS 1.

Our eyes are only sensitive to a very narrow range of the electromagnetic spectrum. Like the dog that can hear sounds we can't, there is a large spectrum of electromagnetic waves we can not see. If we could see at very low frequencies, called VLF, we would be dazzled by electromagnetic emissions such as sferics, tweeks, whistlers, chorus, and many others. These are natural radio waves or emissions coming from such common phenomena as lightning, but there are also VLF emissions that reach the ground that come from ten's of thousands of  miles from the Earth. VLF radio emissions are at such low frequencies that they can be received, amplified and turned into sound that we can hear. Each of the natural VLF radio emissions has a very distinctive sound. It is fun to listen to natural VLF emissions.



Live INSPIRE and Radio JOVE Streams

Live stream now available!  JOVE stream is available here (Requires Windows Media Player ).

Live JOVE Stream


Radio JOVE

Radio JOVE is a joint education project to get secondary school students involved with gathering and working with space science data. 

For more information, click here.


INSPIRE is proud to acknowledge support by the following enlightened organizations:

Goddard Space Flight Center

Raytheon Information Technology and Scientific Services

District of Columbia Space Grant Consortium


NASA home page

GSFC home page

Organizational page

Author: Bill Taylor (taylor@mail630.gsfc.nasa.gov)
Curator: Bill Taylor (taylor@mail 630.gsfc.nasa.gov)
Responsible Official: Dr. James L. Green, Code 630
Last Revised:  September 18, 2001



In 1988, the Space Research Institute of Moscow requested that NASA participate in its upcoming ACTIVE (not an acronym) project. ACTIVE was a satellite launched in 1989 with a 10.5 kHz transmitter onboard to study wave particle interactions and the propagation of VLF waves. NASA responded by authorizing a group of U.S. scientists to make ground observations and theoretical calculations relevant to ACTIVE.

A volunteer organization dubbed HSGS (High School Ground Station) was quickly established by Taylor; W. Pine, a high school physics teacher; and two amateur scientists, M. Mideke and J. Ericson. The objective of HSGS was to recruit high schools to help gather data on 10.5 kHz electromagnetic (radio) waves which might be observed on the ground. A large number of ground receiving sites were needed, both to enhance the probability of receiving the radio waves from ACTIVE, and to determine the propagation paths to the ground.

HSGS was envisioned as a test bed with several objectives. The first was to see whether high school classes could successfully complete a project that included mechanical and electronic construction and a rigorous data-gathering procedure. The second was to see if high school physics teachers could integrate the instructional material into their curriculum. NASA provided moral support and TRW (http://www.trw.com) provided financial support to defray the cost of the packages. The packages included an electronic kit and 161 pages of instructional material. The packages were developed and distributed to interested high schools in California, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia.

Many of the schools that received kits successfully operated them, recording the data on cassette tapes for analysis. The transmitting antenna on the ACTIVE satellite failed to deploy properly, however, resulting in a decrease in signal strength of about 30 dB. Even though no waves were observed on the ground, the teachers reported a very high level of enthusiasm in their students. The teachers integrated the HSGS instructional material into their units on waves, electronics, radio, and the atmosphere. The student and teacher enthusiasm proved to HSGS that continuing such a program would be very useful in stimulating interest in science in general and space physics in particular among high school students. This volunteer organization evolved into INSPIRE.


Following ACTIVE and the proof of the concept through HSGS, INSPIRE was formally organized and incorporated. The objective of INSPIRE was to incrementally increase high school participation by a factor of ten and to more or less permanently establish a set of high school physics classes (through teacher participation) around the country to make observations of radio waves in the audio region. SEPAC (Space Experiments using Particle Accelerators), a payload on the ATLAS 1 Spacelab mission, flown in March/April 1992, provides the initial enthusiasm for INSPIRE classes. SEPAC consisted of an electron accelerator and support instrumentation and performed many experiments in the ionosphere, including producing an artificial aurora and investigating the electromagnetic waves produced by a pulsed electron beam (a virtual antenna).

To publicize INSPIRE, the project sent invitation letters to "The Physics Teacher" at the 10,000 largest high schools in the U.S. (of about 20,000 total). In addition, articles publicizing INSPIRE were published in various journals [Anonymous, 1991a, b, c, d; Ericson, 1991a, b; Mideke, 1991; Pine and Taylor, 1991; Reneau, 1991; Anonymous, 1992a, b, c; Taylor et. al, 1992; and White, 1992]. More than 1,000 schools (10% of those solicited) responded with orders for the package. The package included an electronic kit, 250 pages of background and instructional material, an audio tape of expected phenomena and a promise to analyze any tapes that were sent to INSPIRE after the mission. Only the first 1,000 orders could be filled due to the limited resources available to INSPIRE.

An elaborate information distribution network was established to inform the participants of the experiment schedule, including hourly announcements on WWV (the U.S. time and frequency shortwave radio station), announcements as needed on four electronic bulletin boards, and a toll-free telephone number with a recorded announcement that was changed as new information became available. W. Pine participated in mission simulations and the mission, to act as the INSPIRE focus during the mission at the Payload Operations Control Center. ATLAS 1 flew for about a week and the plan called for ten virtual antenna experiments over the U.S.

The electron accelerator failed on its second virtual antenna operation, but many of the high schools participated in the backup listening schedule to study the changes in sferic (lightning impulse) propagation at sunrise. Approximately 300 cassette tapes were sent to INSPIRE for analysis. Each of the participant classes who sent tapes received in return at least one spectrogram of the data they had collected, a personal letter from M. Mideke, who performed all the analysis, describing what they had observed, and a Certificate of Appreciation for participating. As with ACTIVE, the teachers and students were wildly enthusiastic about INSPIRE. The project gave them a means of relating the physics they learned in class to a real, practical experiment, and one that was being done cooperatively with NASA (http://www.nasa.gov/NASA_homepage.html/), using the Space Shuttle. Some classes also performed computer analysis of the signals they received.

After the success of INSPIRE/SEPAC, it was decided to continue the INSPIRE project. Several activities have been identified. One is the INSPIRE Journal published biannually, which, for a small subscription fee, describes INSPIRE activities and INSPIRE results. Another is a continuing coordinated observation campaign, in which participants across the U.S. make simultaneous observations to study the propagation of radio signals in the audio range. Examples are manmade signals such as the OMEGA (now off the air, http://www.navcen.uscg.mil/omega/) and ALPHA radio navigation stations, and natural radio emissions such as sferics (the broadband electromagnetic impulses from lightning) and whistlers (frequency dispersed impulses from lightning).


On May 10, 1994, an annular eclipse (http://planets.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse/eclipse.html) swept across most of the U.S., with a maximum coverage of the sun of about 88 percent [Espenak, 1993]. Since the Earth's ionosphere is primarily created by solar UV, and since radio waves in the audio frequency region propagate in the Earth­ionosphere waveguide, it is natural to assume that the eclipse had an effect on radio propagation and that the changes might be observable with INSPIRE or ACTIVE receivers. Therefore, the INSPIRE project made INSPIRE/ECLIPSE­94 a major observational objective. High school classes, observed before, during and after the eclipse. INSPIRE offered to analyze recorded data, using its network of volunteer analysts and more than 100 tapes were submitted and are being analyzed.

Kits and completed electric field receivers were offered for sale for about $60 (cost) to students, classes, teachers, amateur scientists and others to allow them to participate. Those with HSGS (magnetic field) or INSPIRE/SEPAC (electric field) receivers were able to use them, of course. Publicity for radio wave observations during the eclipse included Mideke [1993a; 1993b] and Taylor [1993d; 1993e]. Everywhere in the contiguous 48 states experienced at least a 48 percent coverage of the solar disk as measured by the overlap of lunar and solar diameters.


INTERBALL-MIR-INSPIRE (INTMINS, is a joint IKI/INSPIRE space physics research project, based on the MIR-INTERBALL program and definitized by and agreement between IKI and INSPIRE. INTMINS will include coordinated activities of MIR, INTERBALL (http://www.iki.rssi.ru/interball.html) , and INSPIRE. Ariel and Istochnik instrumentation on the MIR station will inject plasma blobs and beams of electrons into the ionospheric plasma. Using plasma and wave instruments of the INTERBALL project and the observations of the VLF radio waves on the ground from the INSPIRE project, the following scientific objectives will be met addressed:

  • Study the interactions between the ionospheric plasma and the injected plasma and electrons.
  • Understand the dynamics of the injected, artifical plasma in the ionosphere
  • Investigate the initial phase of plasma instabilities, the resulting electromagnetic emissions and their propagation in the ionosphere, magnetosphere, and atmosphere
  • Investigate effects of wave particle interactions
  • To meet these objectives, MIR operations (http://www.iki.rssi.ru/vprokhor/intmins/pre.htm) are planned for two periods each year, in April and November. During these periods. MIR operations are scheduled, during weekends over the US, Europe and Russia. INSPIRE participants record their observations on cassette tapes. The tapes are sent to INSPIRE data analysts for interpretation and to seek evidence of the MIR generated radio waves.

    2.5 Workshops

    INSPIRE has organized and participated in four workshops. One was held at Chaffey High School (http://www.chaffey.org/) in Ontario, California in December 1990, to acquaint high school teachers and students with ACTIVE and HSGS. Fifty-four students and teachers from 17 high schools attended. W. Pine organized and ran the Workshop. While designed for schools in southern California, one teacher attended from Washington, D.C.!

    The second Workshop, this time for INSPIRE/SEPAC, was held at the Academy for Science and Foreign Languages, a public magnet middle school in Huntsville, Alabama, in March 1992. Aimed at middle and high schools in Madison County, 40 teachers and others from northern Alabama attended. It was sponsored by the University of Alabama at Huntsville. W. Pine attended and spoke at the Workshop.

    The third and fourth Workshops were held in Washington, DC at Gallaudet University (http://www.gallaudet.edu/), in 1996 and 1997. They were aimed at high school physics teacher in the DC area. Both were well attended and hugely successful. A third Washington, DC workshop will be held on October 10, 1998, also at Gallaudet University.