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Rocket-powered final exam launches

by John Van Winkle
U.S. Air Force Academy public affairs

5/2/2005 - PINON CANYON MANEUVER RANGE, Colo., (AFPN)  -- Two semesters of work boiled down to a 10-second countdown before a cadet-built rocket blasted off here April 30.

The rocket-powered final exam reached a 13,400 feet altitude in 20 seconds.

The launch was part of this year’s academy FalconLaunch program, an astronautical engineering course here. The two-semester program puts astrodynamics and space systems theory to a hands-on test by having cadets design, build, manage and launch a single-stage rocket.

“We also learn a lot about team dynamics and working with other people during this course,” said Cadet 1st Class Matt Miller. “We have to coordinate four different teams and all be on the same page. So communication is key. We’ve had a few mistakes, but have overcome them all. It also makes you appreciate the larger projects in the Air Force.”

The cadets demonstrated their problem-solving skills during both the rocket production and after the flight, officials said.

Information from the rocket stopped 33 seconds after launch, which was when the nose cone’s parachute deployed. The cadet’s post-flight examination of the nose cone and parachute cable showed the cable probably damaged avionics components when it deployed.

Although preliminary, design solutions were discussed by the cadets during recovery operations.

“Now that the rocket has been recovered, as a team, we need to do the post-flight analysis of the rocket,” said Cadet 1st Class John Rudzinski, FalconLaunch program manager. “This data will be used in depicting this year’s experience as FalconLaunch strives closer to a space flight. From now until we graduate, we will be working to organize the massive amount of information into a system which will be easily accessible for future FalconLaunch teams.”

This is the third year of the FalconLaunch program, which has created larger and more complex rockets with each year.

The eventual goal of the FalconLaunch project is to create a single-stage 100-pound rocket which can deliver a 5-pound scientific and experimental payload to an altitude of about 60 miles. This will provide cadets and the Defense Department with a flexible test bed for new structural and propellant technologies, enable military science and engineering development missions and will work with the academy’s existing capabilities to build satellites and design space-based scientific experiments.

FalconLaunch is one of 300 undergraduate research projects in progress at the Air Force Academy.

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