Automated Flight Safety Improving Space Access

Home / Articles / External Non-Government

May 8, 2017 | Originally published by Date Line: May 8 on

After supporting over 3,500 launches in the past 70 years, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) faces a busy 2017. With a scheduled flight manifest of some 30 launches, the Eastern Range is changing the way it handles flight safety to satisfy a wider array of customers.

Every rocket launched has a feature onboard that can commanded the vehicle to self-destruct: a flight termination system. Until 2017, however, the actual command to destroy a rocket came manually from the Range Safety Officer on the ground.

Now, however, a new device, the Autonomous Flight Safety System or AFSS, puts the control in the hands of a computer onboard the rocket.

AFSS was first demonstrated as a primary system on an operational flight during SpaceX’s Feb. 19, 2017, CRS-10 launch from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A.

Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s President and Chief Operating Officer, explained that the company has been using autonomous flight safety systems for a while in “shadow mode” with the manual system being the primary.

The appearance of external hyperlinks on this DTIC website does not constitute endorsement by the United States Department of Defense (DoD) of the linked websites, or the information, products or services contained therein. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the United States DoD.