U.S. Air Force Academy cadets at the Department of Astronautics Space Systems Research Center witnessed the successful launch of the FalconSAT-X satellite on November 11th. FalconSAT-X was launched by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 mission at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.
The FalconSAT program, which has been ongoing since 1997, allows cadets to gain hands-on experience in satellite development and operations. Seniors from each Academy class since 2019 have been involved in the program, where they design, analyze, build, test, and operate small satellites that host technology experiments funded by the Air Force Research Laboratory.
The Cadet Space Operations Squadron is responsible for daily operations of the on-orbit FalconSATs. Cadet 1st Class Parker Brush compares their testing process to flight testing done by the Space Force, stating that they are thorough in their testing methods.
Shortly after the launch, the squadron’s Initial Contact Team, comprised of Cadets 1st Class Ashley Nies and Garrett Siemen, establishes a data link with the satellite to ensure its systems are functioning properly.
The FalconSAT program aims to develop and operate small satellites for scientific and technological experiments. These micro-satellites are approximately 24x28x38 inches in size and weigh a maximum of 395 pounds. Cadets continue to operate previous satellites, including FalconSAT-6 and FalconSAT-8.
In addition to providing valuable data and conducting experiments, the program also offers valuable experience to future Air Force and Space Force officers. Nies, for example, gains satellite operating experience a year before she starts space operator training.
Approximately 50 cadets majoring in STEM disciplines are involved in satellite design and development, while 75-100 cadets of all majors and class years operate the spacecraft. The program provides real-world experience similar to that of young Space Force officers and engineers in the industry.
Over the years, FalconSAT satellites have conducted a variety of experiments, such as studying Earth’s upper atmosphere, testing new communication technologies, and examining the effects of space radiation on electronic components.
The three cadets who handled the initial contact for FalconSAT-X were high school juniors when the program began in 2019. They were grateful for the opportunity to build on the work of previous classes and to be a part of the launch.
The cadets are already working on the next spacecraft, FalconSAT-Xtra, even before FalconSAT has entered orbit.