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.