Rocky Mountain AIAA Newsletter

Rocky Mountian AIAA Newsletter #97-06 October

Air Force Academy Cadets Launch Satellite
Cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy will send their own satellite up on an Atlas IIA launch vehicle Oct.24 from Cape Canaveral, Fl. Academy staff and cadets have worked jointly with the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and Lockheed Martin on this mission which they've named Falcon Gold. The objective of the mission is to characterize the Global Positioning System (GPS) signal for use in orbit determination at altitudes above the GPS constellation. Falcon Gold will relay GPS signal measurements for approximately three weeks until the on-board batteries expire. The spacecraft will downlink the signal measurements to ground stations for post-processing.

Falcon Gold will remain attached to the Centaur rocket, which is the upper stage of the launch vehicle. The small spacecraft will activate once the primary payload, a Defense Satellite Communications System III (DSCS) satellite departs from the Centaur. It will then receive GPS signals and transmit them to ground stations.

This proof-of-concept mission is intended to take the first step in determining if above constellation GPS navigation for spacecraft is possible. If successful, the need for ground tracking devices may be reduced, saving money, time and resources.

A prototype of the satellite has undergone extensive testing to ensure that it will not interfere with the launch vehicle or the primary payload. A prototype of the Falcon Gold spacecraft was tested on a high altitude balloon flown to 96,000 feet above sea level in April and was successful. After the prototype flight, the Falcon Gold design was slightly modified and the space-flight version was constructed.

The small satellite program has been in existence at the Air Force Academy since 1993, and is designed to give cadets opportunities to put into practice the theories they've learned in other classes. Senior cadets in the astronautical engineering major take a two-semester small satellite design class to work on an actual project to be launched and tested, either on a high altitude balloon or on-board a planned space mission. Each year, a new class picks up where the last class left off with the current project. Two classes have been involved in planning the Falcon Gold mission and designing and building the spacecraft.

The current class will participate in monitoring signals at a ground station in Boulder, Co. during the three-week mission. Cadets at the Naval Academy will also monitor signals from a ground station in Annapolis, Md.

In addition to the astronautical engineering students, many other cadets get the chance to put theories into practice from their areas of study. Cadets studying electrical engineering, computer science, engineering mechanics and physics take part in aspects of the design and construction of the satellite.

The payload will depart the U.S. Air Force Academy on Oct.12, and will be transported to Cape Canaveral, Fla. for the Oct.24 launch.

The Astronautical Engineering department has several more projects planned for future classes. Any news media interested in covering the Falcon Gold mission, or future missions, may contact the Air Force Academy Public Affairs office at (719) 333-2990.