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Engineering Education Lessons From A Sounding Rocket Capstone Design Course

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Teams and Teamwork in Design II

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.626.1 - 12.626.18



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Paper Authors

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Ralph Sandfry US Air Force Academy

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michael bettner US Air Force Academy

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Tim Lawrence US Air Force Academy

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Michael Sobers US Air Force Academy

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Engineering Education Lessons From a Sounding Rocket Capstone Design Course Abstract

The FalconLAUNCH program is a two-semester capstone engineering design experience for the Astronautical Engineering major at the United States Air Force Academy. The program’s long term technical goal is to develop a reproducible sounding rocket capable of carrying small scientific payloads to an altitude of 100 km. In 2006-2007, the program’s fifth year, the student team designed FalconLAUNCH-V, a single-stage solid-propellant sounding rocket capable of achieving 60 km altitude. The course closely approximates the DoD systems engineering process used to develop new aerospace systems. The student team begins with specific system requirements and progresses, within a single academic year, through a complete development cycle by designing, building, testing, and operating a supersonic sounding rocket. Through the process, students learn many practical lessons in this multidisciplinary program. The program benefits from a close association with the Air Force Research Laboratory, NASA Wallops Flight Facility, and the solid-rocket commercial industry. Along with their engineering mentorship, these partners provide an extremely valuable “real world” aspect to the course.

I. Introduction

The Space Systems Research Center at the Air Force Academy began the FalconLAUNCH sounding rocket program in the academic year, 2002-2003. This Department of Astronautics two-semester capstone design course provides a realistic design experience for senior students majoring in Astronautical Engineering, Systems Engineering and Systems Engineering Management. The program focuses on “learning space by doing space.” Each year, students apply systems engineering processes to design, build, test, and fly a solid-propellant sounding rocket. Through participation in the FalconLAUNCH program, students get a hands-on opportunity to apply many of the tools and skills developed in their engineering classrooms to a real problem. The experience is an excellent preparation for the challenges they may encounter in aerospace systems development following graduation. This paper discusses the overall program and specifically examines the integration of systems engineering processes, the multidisciplinary engineering & management opportunities, and the benefits of academic, government, and industry partnerships in engineering education.

II. Program Overview and History

The FalconLAUNCH program has designed, built, and flown four sounding rockets; one each year since 2003. This year’s rocket, FalconLAUNCH-V (FL-V), is designed to be the most advanced system to date. It’s capable of reaching over Mach-5 speeds on its way to an altitude of over 60 km (200,000 ft). The program strives to provide a “hands-on” educational experience for students while applying a high level of practical engineering to solve real-world problems. The program emphasizes developing a basic capability to fly small scientific and engineering payloads on a yearly basis. Technical goals are focused on developing a reproducible design, built largely by students, capable of flying a 5 kg payload to over 100 km (330,000 ft). This

Sandfry, R., & bettner, M., & Lawrence, T., & Sobers, M. (2007, June), Engineering Education Lessons From A Sounding Rocket Capstone Design Course Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2541

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