Space may be the final frontier, but that doesn’t mean we all get to explore it. Except, perhaps by radio, as the US Air Force has just demobbed a satellite and handed it over to the public to use. FalconSAT-3 was built and used by students at the US Air Force Academy (USAFA) as part of their training, then launched into orbit in 2007. It’s still going 10 years later, but the USAFA is building and launching more satellites, so they don’t need FalconSAT-3. Rather than trash it, they have turned off the military bits and and are allowing radio amateurs to use it.
FalconSAT-3 is a 120-pound satellite that is in a 469 km high orbit. It was one of the first to use a gravity gradient boom, where a weight on the end of a pole uses the gravity of earth to keep the antennas pointing towards earth. Although all of the really interesting military stuff is now turned off, it is now working as an ARS digipeter with a 145.840 Mhz uplink and a 435.103 MHz downlink. The receiver is, by all accounts, quite sensitive, and the transmitter has a 1.25 W continuous power rating, so it should not be too difficult to hear and talk to. Several amateurs have already reported successful communications, so it looks like it is open for business. Amsat also has a good guide to the basics of getting in touch with this satellite.