FalconLAUNCH

FalconLAUNCH is a cadet-run engineering design capstone course for senior cadets offered by the U.S. Air Force Academy Department of Astronautics. Each year, cadets from across the academic spectrum come together in order to "learn space by doing space." Teams consist of approximately 25 cadets from fields such as mechanical and electrical engineering, astronautical engineering and management.

Each course begins in August with the broad requirements to build a stable sounding rocket capable of reaching space while flying a payload in support of Department of Defense-related research. The team implements the systems engineering process over the course of two semesters, undergoing a series of design reviews and tests, including two full-scale static fires and several sub-system tests prior to launch.

FalconLAUNCH VII, constructed by cadets in the Class of 2009, was the first multi-staged rocket in FalconLAUNCH history. In order to maximize altitude, the team opted for a "boosted dart" concept. The boost phase lasted approximately 4.5 seconds, during which approximately 100 pounds of propellant lifted the rocket to an altitude of about 12,000 feet.

Once the boost phase propellant was spent, a small, inert dart separated and coast to aproximately 350,000 feet, or 67 miles above the Earth. The dart houses an avionics unit that ejected from the dart body frame at apogee so that the team can recover data from this stage of the flight.

FalconLAUNCH VII also flew the programs first Space Experiment Review Board designated payload. The payload, a model of an experimental fin tip, is a a joint venture with the Air Force Institute of Technology and Air Force Research Laboratory headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. The fin tip supports ongoing research in the lab's Future Responsive Access to Space Technologies program. FalconLAUNCH VII's fin tip will help model the performance of wingtip-mounted vertical stabilizers through subsonic, transonic and supersonic flight regimes.

(Current as of May 2009)