There are Two Main Areas of Research Within the US Air Force Academy Department of Astronautics. FalconSat involves the design and development of small satellites to be launched into space. FalconLaunch covers the design and development of sounding rocket size vehicles to be launched to the edges of space.
The US Air Force Academy FalconSAT and FalconLAUNCH programs provide cadets an opportunity to design, analyze, build, test and operate small satellites and sounding rockets to conduct DoD space missions. FalconSAT and FalconLAUNCH research is conducted within the USAFA Space Systems Research Center (SSRC). The SSRC coordinates research funding with outside organizations and provides planning and management for satellite and sounding rocket missions.
In December 2004, DARPA announced that FalconSAT-2 was manifested for an October 2005 launch (now scheduled for Spring of 2006) out of Kwajalein on the SpaceX Falcon I launch vehicle. The FalconSAT-2 team of cadets redesigned the antennas for better gain, completed 4 revisions of the interface control document, conducted 2 separation tests using the SpaceX marman clamp band separation system, and completed the commissioning, on orbit operations and anomaly procedures for controlling the satellite from the USAFA ground station.
In fall 2004, the cadets started building the FalconSAT-3 qualification model. They completed construction in December, and tested the 110 lb satellite in late January and early February. The satellite was put thru 5 thermal vacuum tests to simulate the harsh space environment. The satellite had to survive at pressures of 10-7 Torr and thermal cycles varying from -20 C to +50 C. The satellite then underwent 3 axis sine burst vibration tests of 15 g's and random vibration 6 dB above what is currently predicted from the Atlas V launch vehicle. The cadets learned valuable lessons in this campaign and discovered problems with all 5 payloads. The CSA shock ring, micro pulsed plasma thrusters, and whip antenna had problems in the vibration campaign and the FLAPS, PLANE, and gravity gradient boom suffered problems in the thermal vacuum campaign. The cadets did troubleshooting on all of the problems and developed a plan for the successful flight model build in the fall of 2005. The cadets also had successful meetings preparing for the integration of the satellite. Major milestones completed where the EMI/RF safety plan, Contamination control plan, Interface Control Document Rev 1, and the initial submission of the Mission Spacecraft Program Safety Plan.
A team from the Department of Astronautics (DFAS), Colorado Satellite Services (CSS), and the National Security Space Institute (NSSI) completed a 2-year development of hardware and curriculum for the EyasSAT Educational Satellite System. EyasSAT is a "satellite kit" that students can assemble in an afternoon or a semester to provide a hands-on experience for engineering classes and short courses. EyasSAT was developed using a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRDA) between USAFA and CSS. The technology is currently in patent pending status. The work was presented at the 2004 American Society of Engineering Educators (ASEE) Conference in Salt Lake City and at the 17th International Conference on College Teaching and Learning, where it won the International Boyer Award. The EyasSAT system impacts 50 astronautical engineering students, 950 core astronautics students, and 350 AF personnel annually. There have been over a dozen news articles published on the idea. The Space Systems Research Center receives support from AFOSR, SMC/STP, AFRL/PR, AFRL/VS, the AOG and gifts from Lockheed Martin and Northrup Grumman.
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