The FalconSat Program - Small Satellite Design Providing an Opportunity for Students to "Learn Space by Doing Space"


The capstone of the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) Astronautics curriculum is the FalconSAT Program.  One goal of the program, housed within the Academy's Small Satellite Research Center, is to give undergraduate cadets the unique opportunity to "learn space by doing space."  The program facilitates cadet development of small satellite mission design through instructor guidance and mentorship.  It allows cadets to gain real-world experience with satellite design, assembly, integration, testing, and operations within the context of a two-semester engineering course sequence. Since the early 1990's, the USAF Academy has been striving to achieve this idea a robust small satellite program. This briefing begins by summarizing the early development of the program, including a series of cadet-build high attitude balloon experiments, which culminated in the Academy's first satellite-FalconGold.  The Academy's first free-flying small satellite-FalconSAT-1 is then discussed along with some lessons learned from its early on-orbit failure.  The current status of the program will be presented with a detailed discussion of the FalconSAT-2 spacecraft. Experience using the open spacecraft architecture pioneered by Surrey Satellite Technology's SNAP mission on FalconSAT-2 is highlighted.  Adaptation of the core SNAP subsystems for the FalconSAT program is the key to development of an integration model for ease of payload interface. Future plans and the direction of this evolving program will also be discussed.