FalconLAUNCH VII rocket launch successful

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A cadet class project went into space today. 

Cadets launched their FalconLAUNCH VII "boosted-dart" sounding rocket at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., at 3:30 a.m. MST April 17. 

The FalconLAUNCH rockets are designed, built and tested by senior cadets as part of a year-long capstone course in astronautical engineering. 

"The big goal is to let cadets learn space by doing space," said Cadet 1st Class Brad DeWees, FalconLAUNCH VII project manager. 

As of April 17, all indications show a successful launch, with the booster section separating at 44,390 feet. Academy launch crews are currently tracking the dart section of the rocket in lower earth orbit. 

This altitude was a record for the FalconLAUNCH program, now in its seventh year. The previous record, achieved six years ago, was approximately 30,000 feet. Achieving an altitude of 330,000 feet was the team's primary goal since the start of the school year in August. This altitude qualifies as space as defined by NASA, and 330,000 feet is the highest altitude ever achieved by a rocket designed and fabricated by undergraduate students. Once the dart section returns to earth, data will be offloaded to add to the post-launch analysis. 

FalconLAUNCH VII flew a payload designated by the Space Experiments Review Board -- an experimental fin tab designed in support of research at the Air Force Institute of Technology and Air Force Research Laboratory. This was the first-ever flying of a SERB-designated payload in the program's history. This system is expected to undergo further testing on future FalconLAUNCH systems. 

The rocket was designed by a multi-disciplinary team of cadets from the Astronautical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, and Management departments of the U.S. Air Force Academy, as well as by three cadets from the French air force academy. A total of 26 cadets contributed to the rocket's successful flight. The overarching goal of the program is to help cadets learn the engineering and design process through application. 

Several other agencies combined efforts with the cadets to make today's lanch happen, including the NASA Sounding Rocket Group, Navy and Army range support at White Sands Missile Range, Air Force Research Laboratory, Air Force Institute of Technology and Vulcan Systems. 

The FalconLAUNCH program's end goal is to provide the Air Force and Department of Defense with a cost-efficient, operationally responsive method of delivering small scientific and engineering payloads into lower earth orbit.