Cadet-built satellite to launch Nov. 19
11/18/2010 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AFNS) -- Years of work will rocket into orbit when the U.S. Air Force Academy's latest cadet-built satellite, FalconSAT-5, launches from Kodiak Launch Complex, Alaska, at 6:24 p.m. Mountain Time Nov. 19.
The mission, dubbed STP-S26 for the Department of Defense Space Test Program's 26th mission, will carry six small satellites into a highly inclined orbit on the third launch of the Orbital Sciences Minotaur IV launch vehicle -- a modified Cold War missile retired earlier this decade from F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo.
"Cadets, faculty and staff are anxiously awaiting the event after nearly four years of hard work -- designing, building, integrating, testing, and in several cases repairing the most ambitious small satellite ever built by an undergraduate engineering program," said Col. Marty France, the permanent professor and head of the Department of Astronautics.
The FalconSAT-5 mission is sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory. Its mission is to perform space weather measurements with onboard sensors in collaboration with remote ground sites. The onboard payloads include the Integrated Miniaturized Electrostatic Analyzer, or iMESA, and Wafer Integrated Spectrometers, or WISPERS, sensors, which measure low and high-energy ion densities, an off-the-shelf plasma source, and the radio frequency signal strength. This suite of experiments will measure the local ionosphere, stimulate the local space weather environment and measure the subsequent changes, and evaluate ionospheric effects on radio frequency signals for communication impacts.
Design work on FalconSAT-5 began almost three years ago while FalconSAT-3 was undergoing preparations for its March 2007 launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Cadets with the classes of 2007 through 2010, along with faculty mentors from several academic departments and the Academy's Space Systems Research and Space Physics and Atmospheric Research centers, completed design, engineering and prototype testing milestones in preparation for final construction and testing that began during the 2008-09 academic year. The class of 2010 completed assembly of the satellite and prepared for satellite system testing at Kirtland AFB, N.M., and Edwards AFB, Calif., last year.
FalconSAT is one of the Academy's capstone undergraduate systems engineering courses managed by the Department of Astronautics and the SSRC. A cadet team acts as the satellite system integrating contractor. The spacecraft bus, with all the supporting subsystems, is designed, built and tested to meet the requirements of real-world Department of Defense payload and mission requirements.
Following launch, the next big event occurs about 11 hours later when Cadets 1st Class James Taggart and Jerra Turner, Cadet 2nd Class Kat Blythe and their mentor, Maj. Steve Hart, execute the initial contact as FalconSAT-5 passes overhead for the first time.
"Bringing a satellite to life is a great honor for these three cadet operators," said retired Col. Jack Anthony, who conducts satellite research for the astronautics department. "They've been spearheading the FalconSAT-5 crew force training and readiness for the mission and have spent countless hours in preparation."
FalconSAT-5 is expected to remain operational for up to three years. Cadet satellite operators will also continue controlling and exchanging data with FalconSAT-3, which continues its operational life.
Meanwhile, the FalconSAT team is already busying themselves with the design of FalconSAT-6, another AFRL-sponsored small satellite intended to demonstrate innovative propulsion technologies along with carrying space environmental sensors. FalconSAT-6 is planned to be complete in 2013 with a launch date and booster to be determined.
(The Department of Astronautics contributed to this story.)
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