AF, Army join forces on FalconSAT-3

John Clark, left, trains U.S. Military Academy cadets on the new electronics suite that will allow them to contact the Air Force Academy's FalconSAT-3 satellite. Mr. Clark, who works for the Air Force Academy's Department of Astronautics, installed the suite in West Point's Bartlett Hall to allow cadets from both service academies to operate FalconSAT-3 jointly. (U.S. Army photo)

John Clark, left, trains U.S. Military Academy cadets on the new electronics suite that will allow them to contact the Air Force Academy's FalconSAT-3 satellite. Mr. Clark, who works for the Air Force Academy's Department of Astronautics, installed the suite in West Point's Bartlett Hall to allow cadets from both service academies to operate FalconSAT-3 jointly. (U.S. Army photo)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- The U.S. Military Academy joined the Air Force Academy's FalconSAT-3 operations team Jan. 21 with a new ground control station, kick-starting West Point's small-satellite program and potentially doubling the number of possible contacts with the satellite each day.

The idea of joint FalconSAT operations began during a deployment, explained Astronautics professor Bill Saylor, the Academy's Schriever chair and a 1972 West Point graduate.

Faculty from the Air Force Academy's Astronautics department and West Point's Physics Department were both deployed to the National Military Academy of Afghanistan, supporting the growth of that country's military academy. As the faculty members shared stories, they came up with the idea of working toward joint space operations between the two academies.

This milestone paves the way for future joint operations of research satellites and West Point's work on its Black Knight 1 Cubesat, Professor Saylor said.

With two geographically separated ground control stations, the teams can conduct more satellite contacts, explained retired Col. Jack Anthony, chief of operations for the Academy's Small Satellite Research Center and a 1978 Academy graduate.

"From the Academy, we can get three to four passes per day due to orbital mechanics, but with West Point's ground station, we can get seven or maybe eight passes a day to communicate with FalconSAT-3," Mr. Anthony said.

Air Force Academy cadets were teleconferenced with West Point Jan. 21 and commanded FalconSAT-3 to broadcast a signal while the satellite passed over West Point. Cadets from West Point's Small Satellite Research Group and Ham Radio Club staffed the ground control station and received the signal.

The amateur radio club, which dates back to 1909, has already demonstrated the capability to monitor and track some satellites in orbit. That capability went up a notch after John Clark from the Air Force Academy's Department of Astronautics oversaw the installation of the FalconSAT-3 electronics suite in West Point's Bartlett Hall.

FalconSAT-3, launched March 8, 2007, is part of the Air Force Academy's two-satellite space fleet. This research satellite has several scientific experiments in its payload, including:

Flat Plasma Spectrometer: characterizes the effects of non-Maxwellian charged particles on the formation, propagation and decay of ionospheric plasma bubbles. These space weather effects can impact space-based communication and navigation signals, including the Global Positioning System and other civil and military communications.

Plasma Local Anomalous Noise Element: identifies and characterizes spacecraft-induced plasma turbulence.

Micropropulsion Attitude Control System: a low-thrust, electricpulsed plasma system with a thrust of 150 micro-Newtons, established the space flight heritage for this new technology.