Your rocket was launching. Something went wrong. It is outside of the safety corridor. The range control attempts to terminate the flight, but the Flight Termination System (FTS) fails. Now what happens?

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    $\begingroup$ Seems pretty obvious. $\endgroup$ Feb 28, 2023 at 0:55
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    $\begingroup$ @TheMatrixEquation-balance Range Safety is "Plan B". Even if your assertion about Falcon vehicles is correct, not all vehicles can do that. $\endgroup$ Feb 28, 2023 at 1:56
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    $\begingroup$ @TheMatrixEquation-balance "This question is about FAA requirements for a safe rocket launch." You appear to be looking at a different question from the one I am commenting on. And, BTW, you are the one who brought up Falcon capabilities, not me. $\endgroup$ Feb 28, 2023 at 2:02
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    $\begingroup$ Terminating the flight is a last-resort action. Maybe, someday, we'll have a story where the range safety devices fail to fire and then we'll find out if people have a chance to come up with some sort of heroic "SCE to AUX" sort of action that allows the vehicle to recover or return to its corridor, but if you can come up with an action in advance to recover the vehicle, surely you'd attempt that before destroying the vehicle. $\endgroup$
    – Erin Anne
    Feb 28, 2023 at 9:29
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    $\begingroup$ @TheMatrixEquation-balance A failed Falcon 9 steering itself to a safer zone is "Plan B". What if "Plan B" doesn't work? Maybe invoke "Plan C"? The Flight Termination System is what I would call "Plan Z". There are no letters left, there are no plans for what happens if the FTS itself fails. That's why the FTS is designed to be infallible. $\endgroup$ Feb 28, 2023 at 11:17

1 Answer 1


It depends on if at least some engines are on. In the event of a failure where no thrust is being generated (all engines are off), the rocket crashes according to its ballistic trajectory (where ever it was already going before the failure occured). On the other hand, if the engines are still producing thrust it will go wherever it's malfunctioning thrust, control, engine, or whatever else it is leading it. The point being, we can't control the rocket (which is basically a massive tank of flammable propellant with a some exterior). It may fall down on populated areas. It could actually be fine and fall on unpopulated areas are be broken up by aerodynamic forces high above the ground. Of course, this isn't something that people want to risk. There is also something else you should note. Flight termination is the last resort. Destroying a rocket and its payload, sometimes costing lifes or billions of dollars is not preferrable. The only reason that a Flight Termination System will be activitied is if the rocket endangers civilians lives. This is why the Flight Termination System (also known as FTS) must be fail-safe. After all, people designed and manufacturing a payload or astronauts riding on rockets have volunteered for the risks of spaceflight, civilians in their homes have not.

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    $\begingroup$ I have fixed this issue @Moo $\endgroup$ Feb 28, 2023 at 23:07
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    $\begingroup$ This answer is misleading. No rocket is designed to sacrifices its human payload. Either there is no FTS, or the escape tower will be used in conjunction. I think you should remove any reference to astronauts sacrifice. It's also worth pointing that a failing rocket is very likely to be destroyed by aerodynamics forces if it goes too far off its flight envelope. $\endgroup$
    – Antzi
    Mar 2, 2023 at 10:26
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    $\begingroup$ @antzi please see space.stackexchange.com/questions/2648/… You are technically correct in that the shuttle itself did not have destruct charges but the final result from a flight termination call was pretty much the same for most of ascent. $\endgroup$ Mar 2, 2023 at 10:48
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    $\begingroup$ @Antzi One of the key reasons the US now launches from one of the coasts, with flights directed over water, is because the US initially used White Sands, New Mexico to test their rockets. A rocket intended to fly north instead veered south, eventually crashing very close to a mining munitions depot near Juarez, Mexico. That very close call (and international incident) eventually resulted in the move to Cape Canaveral. $\endgroup$ Mar 10, 2023 at 12:21

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