Does the KSC Range Safety Officer (RSO) have the ability to abort (destruct) the Falcon 9 first stage on its return to launch site? If so, at what point(s) in the trajectory does this ability exist?

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    $\begingroup$ Great question! I'd sure hope it has range safety the whole way through $\endgroup$ Aug 14, 2017 at 20:41

2 Answers 2


The Range Safety Officer? Nowadays no, because Falcon 9 uses the Automated Flight Safety System (AFSS) (spaceflightinsider.com link)

However, AFSS can destruct the Falcon during landing. In fact this is crucial for Falcon heavy. From the spaceflightinsider.com article linked above:

Additionally, AFSS can support multiple objects in simultaneous flight, which is crucial for companies like SpaceX, which plans to land multiple first stage cores for its Falcon Heavy vehicle at nearly the same time.

From the Florida Today article Only on Falcon 9: Automated system can terminate SpaceX rocket launches:

SpaceX wants to land the two side boosters back at Cape Canaveral, while the middle booster flies on to a ship at sea, so all that three can be recovered and potentially reused. But current Range systems can’t track more than one returning booster.

“If you want to fly multiple boosters back, they have got to be autonomous,” said Monteith. “Otherwise, they’ve got to put them in the ocean.”

Of course, this implies that before AFSS was introduced, the Range Safety Officer had the ability to destruct the Falcon 9 during landing if necessary.

  • $\begingroup$ AFSS is pretty new though, before the CRS-10 flight in February 2017 they used a manual system. $\endgroup$
    – Hobbes
    Aug 20, 2017 at 19:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Hobbes you're right, thanks for pointing this out. I amended my answer accordingly $\endgroup$
    – oefe
    Aug 20, 2017 at 19:37

I think the self-destruct can be performed before the first burn after the separation. After that the potential debree can hit urban areas and even cause deaths.

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    $\begingroup$ Without citation of a credible source, your answer is likely to get downvoted. $\endgroup$ Aug 15, 2017 at 19:36
  • $\begingroup$ @RussellBorogove Doesn't the statement "I think" automatically say that it's just an unverified idea? $\endgroup$
    – w0rk0ut3r
    Aug 15, 2017 at 19:53
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    $\begingroup$ @w0rk0ut3r If it's an unverified idea, why bother posting it as an answer? This is the kind of thing that belongs in a comment. $\endgroup$
    – DylanSp
    Aug 15, 2017 at 20:15
  • $\begingroup$ @w0rk0ut3r -- While we occasionally take an educated guess on this StackExchange, where we can't get a firm answer, we like to see more detail in the reasoning. Since the purpose of range-safety destruction is to make small, lightweight, pre-combusted pieces of debris instead of a single large explosive piece, it's not immediately clear that it wouldn't be useful on a return-to-launch-site trajectory. $\endgroup$ Aug 15, 2017 at 21:35
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    $\begingroup$ @DylanSp: Generally speaking, comments are not for answers, even lousy or dubious or probably wrong answers. In fact, especially not those, since there's no way to vote comments down. $\endgroup$ Aug 16, 2017 at 3:02

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