SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carries USAFA satellite into space

Cheers went up across the United States Air Force Academy Monday morning as a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California carrying the FalconSAT-6 satellite that was built by cadets in the Academy’s FalconSAT program.

The research satellite is designed to collect data on electric propulsion, contamination measurements, communications and solar power technologies.

“FalconSAT-6 was ready for launch in 2016,” said Maj. Daniel Showalter, director of the Academy’s Space Systems Research Center. “Years of launch delays and switching launch vehicles required additional work in 2018 to include replacing the flight batteries, as well as conducting vibration and thermal vacuum testing. The additional work meant that the satellite was completed for the second time prior to shipment in October 2018.”

FalconSAT-6 is one of 64 satellites aboard the rocket as part of Space Flight Industries’ SSO-A SmallSat Express mission.

Another USAFA satellite, FalconSAT-7, is scheduled to launch aboard the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket in spring 2019. Created by the Department of Physics, the satellite includes an innovative telescope designed to capture solar images.

Cadets are currently working on two additional satellites, FalconSAT-8 and FalconSAT-X.

The FalconSAT program grew out of on-board Space Shuttle experiments designed and built by faculty and cadets in the 1980s, including an experiment on the maiden voyage of the Challenger orbiter in 1983. The Air Force Academy is the only undergraduate institution in the world where students have an opportunity to help design, build, test, launch and operate small satellites that contribute to Department of Defense missions.

In addition to government funding, the FalconSAT program is supported with private contributions from the Boeing Company, the Wynne Space Professional Center for Excellence Fund (created by former Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne), Col. (Ret.) Nancy Insprucker ’81 and others through the United States Air Force Academy Endowment.

Cadet and faculty researchers will be analyzing data collected from FalconSAT-6 experiments over the next three years.

“If effective, these technologies can be leveraged by the Air Force for next generation satellites,” Showalter said.

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