NASA has recently completed the design phase of a flight safety system to potentially lower range operations cost for the launch of expendable launch vehicles. The Autonomous Flight Safety System (AFSS) is being developed in three phases by a NASA team of flight systems, operations and range safety personnel.

Design comments have been received from NASA and Department of Defense range safety experts for the single, on-board processor system to be developed in the current phase, Phase III. The core of the flight-qualified system is the design structure comprised of the processor, algorithms and sensors.

“The successful development of the AFSS will demonstrate revolutionary capabilities through new technologies and enable space transportation systems to achieve yet another major goal in affordability,” said Steven Kremer, NASA Wallops Flight Facility, Test Range Technology Program Manager.

The AFSS will be an independent subsystem that would be mounted on expendable launch vehicles that require flight safety systems. If successfully demonstrated and adopted for flight by the ELV community, this on-board system for flight termination or destruct should  reduce the need for safety specific ground based telemetry and radar tracking. 

If required, flight processors will initiate the flight termination function automatically. Redundant on board sensors will gather vehicle navigation data and flight termination will be based upon that data and software-based rules.

In addition, the AFSS will allow for launches from remote locations that do not have extensive ground-based range safety equipment such as tracking radars.

Prototype system flight-testing will take place through lab simulations and on suborbital sounding rockets.  Flight-testing of the prototype system is scheduled for September 2004 and flight tests on the redundant system are scheduled for September 2005.

This phase is a three-year effort to produce a flight qualified system that will be tested by existing launch ranges such as the NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Va.; the Eastern Range, Cape Canaveral, Fla.; and the Western Range, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

NASA Headquarters, Office of Space Flight and Office of Safety and Mission Assurance are providing funding. The project is an example of “One NASA” providing Agency resources from multiple locations to develop new technologies in space flight. The Wallops Flight Facility is providing project management, systems engineering, sensors, flight algorithms, software support and simulation testing. Kennedy Space Center in Florida is providing flight computer and sensor interface, software development and process management, flight algorithm support and systems engineering support. Earlier phases of the project were supported by the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.