By John Van Winkle
Academy Public Affairs
Final preparations are underway to launch the Academy’s latest rocket from southern Colorado this weekend
This sky-bound rocket is FalconLaunch 8, the latest in a series of cadet-designed and cadet-built rockets under the Astronautics’ department’s FalconLaunch program.
Each academic year, a new multidisciplinary team of senior cadets takes the two-semester capstone course and advances the FalconLaunch program a step further toward the program’s end goal by designing and launching a new version of the FalconLaunch rocket and building on the successes of previous years.
“The goal of the program in years past has been to reach the highest altitude possible and last year they actually made it into space,” said Cadet 1st Class Wayne Black, FalconLaunch 8’s chief engineer. “This year we have a new goal, which is to carry a funded Department of Defense-certified payload provided by the Air Force Institute of Technology and the Space Test Program. This payload is a vertical stabilizer, which will be used on a future re-entry vehicle.”
The launch will take place Saturday or Sunday from the Army’s Piñon Canyon Maneuver Range, which is northeast of Trinidad, Colorado. Saturday is the primary launch date, but the final determination was made late Thursday after the latest weather forecast was consulted, and final tests of the rocket were conducted.
FalconLaunch-8 will need to reach a speed of Mach 3 for at least five seconds to provide the necessary data on the vertical stabilizer, said Cadet 1st Class Aaron Price, FalconLaunch-8 project manager. The supersonic speeds provided by FalconLaunch 8 will simulate part of the environment the fin tip will see during the space vehicle’s launch phase.
“We’re testing it for the vibrations it will receive at Mach 3, and we’re taking it up to 100,000 feet. We’re also looking at the temperatures the payload will endure,” Cadet Black said.
The rocket is targeted to reach an altitude of 100,000 feet. After the flight, cadets will recover the rocket from the launch range.
The previous rocket in the FalconLaunch program, FalconLaunch 7, set world records for both altitude and speed of a university-built rocket, with an altitude of 354,724 feet after liftoff from White Sands Missile Range, N.M., April 17, 2009.
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.