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Research Laboratory, Academy officials collaborate on space project

by 2nd Lt. Belena Marquez
95th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

1/29/2010 - EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AFNS) -- U.S. Air Force Academy cadets and members of the Air Force Research Laboratory at Edwards Air Force on the FalconSAT-5 satellite Jan. 11 through 22 here.

The primary mission of the FalconSAT-5 is to perform space weather measurements using on-board sensors in collaboration with remote ground sites.

The FalconSAT-5 mission spacecraft is being integrated and flown by the Department of Defense Space Test Program and is supported by AFRL officials.

"We are doing full operational testing of the satellite, so we're testing out all of the sub-systems, including the thruster, which is the AFRL-provided payload," said Brian Beal, an AFRL program manager.

The testing occurred in AFRL's recently upgraded space propellants environmental facility which is a 30-foot-diameter spherical vacuum chamber. The size of the chamber and high vacuum pumping speed enabled FalconSAT-5 to be tested in conditions that closely mimic the space environment.

Though the FalconSAT-5 mission is sponsored by the AFRL, its not the first instance of Academy and AFRL cooperation.

"AFRL has a long history of working with the Air Force Academy," said Daron Bromaghim, an AFRL program manager. "We send them resources and get cadets involved in some of the programs that we have, so this (testing project) is just a natural outgrowth of that long history."

The history of collaboration is based on the mutual benefit for both organizations as well as the benefit to the Air Force.

"From AFRL's perspective, it's great because we get ... a lot of good talent, good resources and innovative thinkers," Mr. Bromaghim said.

The talent and dedication of the cadets is essential for the effort and timeline needed for the FalconSAT projects.

"The program itself, end to end, has been a couple of years in the making, which, for a satellite program, is pretty fast, from start to finish. To be able to say that we've started with a blank sheet of paper and get a satellite out of the other end two years later is pretty phenomenal, so these cadets and faculty have done a stupendous job," Mr. Bromaghim said.

Mr. Bromaghim said the multidisciplinary project creates more hands-on experience in the fields encompassed in the project. From operations to finance, engineering and program management, Air Force critical needs in the space profession are addressed through the FalconSAT program.

The benefits for the Academy cadets are evident in the lessons they learn from the FalconSAT-5 mission.

"It's a good experience," said Cadet Matthew Knutson, an avionics and analysis team member with Squadron 21. "I think it'll definitely help when we get into the operational Air Force. It lets us see real facilities the Air Force has and it gives us real-world experience."

"We're an undergraduate school doing graduate work on satellites for a real Department of Defense purpose," said Cadet Bill Percoski, a FalconSAT-5 operations team lead and operational test manager with Squadron 40.

Operational Air Force facilities and hands-on experiences ensure that cadets, faculty and collaborating organizations all play a role in furthering the Air Force space mission.

"We're doing real science (and)real technology development for the Air Force and Department of Defense at a low cost. But also, more importantly, we're creating a cadre of space professionals (through) the hands-on experiences that these cadets get in this program," said Col. Tim Lawrence, the Space Systems Research Center director.

Colonel Lawrence also stated the FalconSAT-5 program is a huge value to the Air Force and DOD because of the cost efficiency in the cooperation between AFRL and the Academy.

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