I often read about how AFSS is the the next big part of the range of the future, and how it is a tremendous improvement upon the current system.

But I never really read about the drawbacks. No system is perfect, so what are some possible drawbacks of AFSS? Is there any reason why we would prefer to have the humans push the button, rather than make the computer make the call.

I understand that cost is one of the large motivators for updating the range architecture, and one of the major benefits of AFSS over the current legacy system.

I guess what I'm getting at is every article I come across talks about the positives, and how it's safer and more cost effective, but no one ever discusses some potential drawbacks?

I try to think of some myself, such as can what if a glitch occurs in the computer? Could it still transmit the destruct command? But I don't know enough software/programming to think of anything more than that.

Are there any, and if so what would that consist of?


Here's an example from Spaceflight Insider's Automated Flight Safety Improving Space Access:

Up to now, these public safety decisions were made by individual human controllers on the ground. Kennedy Space Center Director and former astronaut Bob Cabana said that the automated system is the wave of the future and it is where the range is going.

Cabana’s reasoning for this is that, in some cases, human beings are more cautious than the computers and might initiate the flight safety system unnecessarily.

“If done right, an autonomous system is safer than having a human in the loop,” Cabana said.

The AFSS is configurable and uses software-based rules that rely on redundant flight processors using data from GPS and onboard sensors. The system also reduces the amount of customized hardware CCAFS must have on the ground to activate flight termination systems. This allows the range to improve its turnaround times using tougher safety standards and fewer people on consoles while still reducing launch costs.

The end result is the automated system can ensure the Eastern Range can increase the number of customers seeking space access.

See also:

Inside Defense’s Air Force transitioning launch providers to automated flight safety system:

…a move aimed at improving the efficiency and safety of its ranges. “

Vandenberg AFB: New automated system ensures launch safety:

“There’s also a whole subset of ground infrastructure that we no longer need for an AFSS launch,” said Col. Andy Wulfestieg, 30th Space Wing chief of safety. “For example, the command transmitters cannot terminate a missile or a rocket in flight, for an AFSS launch. It’s still the same level of safety, but it’s just a different way of doing it. By putting the system on the rocket itself it reduces our dependency on a lot of ground systems.”

Florida Today’s video General Monteith discusses Autonomous Flight Safety System

“It increases public safety, increases our capacity or throughput on the range, and reduces cost to the customers and eventually cost to the Air Force.

920th Rescue Wing’s Air Force Reservists support successful SpaceX launch:

All future SpaceX rockets will utilize an Autonomous Flight Safety System which replaces the ground-based mission flight control personnel and equipment with on-board Positioning, Navigation and Timing sources and decision logic. The benefits of AFSS include increased public safety, reduced reliance on range infrastructure, reduced range spacelift cost, increased schedule predictability and availability, operational flexibility, and launch slot flexibility.

“It’s just a much more streamlined way to launch, relying on newer technology for sure,” SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell said of the automated system.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Space! For one thing, we'd no longer have any "Set SCE to AUX" stories. space.stackexchange.com/q/17808/26446 $\endgroup$
    – DrSheldon
    Dec 3, 2018 at 4:04
  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage
    Dec 3, 2018 at 13:27
  • $\begingroup$ One drawback would probably be psychological. Humans, particularly the military, like to have control over a situation. Handing over 'the button' to a computer requires a lot of trust. $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Dec 3, 2018 at 20:53
  • $\begingroup$ what if a glitch occurs in the computer? Happens all the time. Could it still transmit the destruct command? If its an automated process, then yes this can happen, even with lots of safe guards in place - at the extreme end, cosmic rays causing a bit flip in computer memory could do this, but the odds are astronomical. But not zero. A good side track here would be to point you at the discussion surrounding automated driving in passenger vehicles, as thats a more mainstream discussion on the same sort of issues. $\endgroup$
    – Moo
    Mar 20, 2023 at 20:57
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    $\begingroup$ I'm voting to reopen because I think there's a fact-based path. It would hinge on finding evidence of the verification process / timeline for AFSS (maybe even just "how long was it between the idea being introduced to the public and flights using AFSS"); the natural downside of the system is proving it will work, whereas humans get additional leeway because of being reasoning beings or something. $\endgroup$
    – Erin Anne
    Mar 22, 2023 at 20:47


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