This and this answer have addressed various issues related to the new Autonomous Flight Safety System, and the second answer addresses one potential benefit being a reduction in turn-around time for range safety configuration between two launches of substantially different vehicles or launch providers.

An interesting comment there highlights the distinction between the benefits due to automation and the benefits due to standardization. Part of the issue here is that my questions are sourced from less technical sources and enquire about the meaning of quoted statements rather than ask about official policies or documents, so I think looking into this distinction is really educational and clarifying and does not raise any question of inconsistency or controversy (necessarily):

It sounds like most of the advantages have nothing to do with the system being automatic, but rather with the system being standardized, which apparently it wasn't before. Or from a slightly different perspective: removing the need for it to be standardized since it isn't actually interfacing with the outside world anymore (except for the format of those "data files" mentioned, which can and probably will be converted to a non-standard, flight-computer-specific format before uploading them to the rocket)

Is the overall direction of launch range safety both autonomy and standardization? Will standardization include both hardware as well as procedure? Will there ultimately be a standardized autonomous black box installed in many/most/all large launch vehicles that can blow them up and presumably the initiate escape of crew first?

note: The scope of this and the two previous questions are primarily the US since they are sourced from information about range safety in the US.

  • $\begingroup$ Note that the second answer to the related question is quite incorrect. See my comments on that answer. $\endgroup$ Mar 17, 2017 at 13:13
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidHammen Thanks for flagging me, please consider writing as a supplemental answer if you have a chance. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Mar 17, 2017 at 13:29
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Quite old now, but perhaps helpful, is this write up on a 2004 talk about early work (it was a great talk that drove some interesting discussion in the smaller-launcher community, but I’m not sure what came of that beyond some work on the SMART platform) ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/20120003350.pdf $\endgroup$ Aug 10, 2019 at 4:56

1 Answer 1


The answer to both questions is yes. I was at a talk at NASA regarding AFSS, and the ultimate goal is to get everyone on board with the same thing, so that there's standardization across the board. This also includes between ranges.

The idea is that right now, SpaceX is the only customer actively using AFSS, but Vulcan, Blue Origin, etc. are all developing the technology. There's a few hold outs, either due to existing inventory that needs to be used first, or the fact that they don't believe it's cost effective to develop their own telemetry antenna, but the AF and so on are pushing to have everyone using AFSS.

But, NASA being NASA said, during that seminar, that they want to, at some point, have everyone using some form of standard. NASA/AF developed the AFSS system that SpaceX uses (not for them, but they basically designed the standard, and SpaceX utilized the idea). There's guidelines set forth by the FAA (the regulatory body in charge of accepting/rejecting any form of flight termination system). These guidelines must be adhered to by any launch customer, and are very strict.

As to whether or not there'll be a standard black box, I doubt it'll go that far (this is just an opinion). My reasoning is that the government tends to not want to spend money, especially for private companies in space. I think the closest we'll get to a standard black box is that they set the guidelines so strict that what's flying is basically identical, even if there's slight hardware/software changes, but ultimately everyone is using the same standard. Regardless, AFSS seems to be exactly what they want for all launch providers to carry as a standard.

Also, the idea for the crewed flights is that part of the destruct signal will be to eject the crew module prior to the explosive destruct signal being sent.

I wish I had a link or something, but this is from memory from a NASA sponsored talk I was at about two months ago.


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