Millennium Software Plays Critical Role in First Autonomous Flight Safety Space Launch

The Autonomous Flight Safety System first flew from the Eastern Range on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 CRS-10 Feb. 19, 2017. The use of AFSS reduces range space lift costs through reductions in range equipment maintenance and upgrades. (Credit: SpaceX)

ARLINGTON, Virg. (Millennium PR) – On the 19th of February, SpaceX successfully launched its space station resupply mission CRS-10 using an on-board, autonomous flight termination system called Autonomous Flight Safety System (AFSS).

Millennium Engineering and Integration Company (Millennium), headquartered in Arlington VA, developed key software for this historic space launch, the first ever to rely exclusively on an AFSS. Millennium’s Flight Analyst Workstation Software (FAWS) was used to define and encode mission rules to independently assess the flight safety rules and associated mission data load for the vehicle. FAWS simulations, using the government provided Core Autonomous Safety Software (CASS), demonstrated that the mission data load reflects the mission flight rules established to protect public safety.

Launched from Kennedy Space Center pad LC-39A, this mission marks the beginning of a new era in space flight safety as vehicles move away from ground-based, manually commanded Flight Termination Systems (FTS) in favor of AFSS. The use of autonomous safety systems will significantly lower the costs associated with space launch operations while ensuring the safety of people and resources.

Millennium’s FAWS together with the government’s AFSS core safety software provides a safe and cost-effective means for launch providers, range operators, and the US Government to ensure safety during flight by reducing the need for aging range infrastructure and instrumentation, while continuing to provide safe and reliable access to space as we enter a new era in spaceflight.

Patrick Murphy, CEO of Millennium stated, “We are proud to continue developing and delivering solutions to the Government and industry to provide safe, flexible access to space for both civilian and military mission. With FAWS, launch vehicle operators are able to ensure safe and reliable launch operations from any launch range while significantly lowering the cost of space flight.”

Millennium’s FAWS software was developed at Millennium’s Product Development Center (PDC) in Melbourne, FL, to allow Safety personnel to generate the Flight Safety rules for an AFSS. The FAWS software has been officially validated for operational use by the USAF at both Cape Canaveral AFS and Vandenberg AFB. FAWS user’s evaluation for operational use included robust system testing and validation of the rules prior to operation. The public/private partnership between commercial industry and the US Government (USAF and NASA safety personnel) has carefully managed the development of AFSS.

  • BeanCounterFromDownUnder

    What quantum of cost reduction is being talked about here and in relation to what exactly?
    Hard to imagine it having much of a cost impact when taking into account the development costs and ongoing maintenance and operations of said software.

  • JamesG

    Software is cheap, relatively speaking. Evidently they must have found that it was worthwhile. Or… they just wanted to spend money on something new and shiny.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Ongoing maintenance of expensive, old range radar is way more than maintenance of a codebase on modern avionics box hooked to a GPS. Also people are expensive, especially if they are actual USAF members with pensions and the rest. Additionally, with BO coming online in the near future, flipping the radar/assets over from SpaceX (2) pads, ULA and BO would be very burdensome and time consuming.

    The argument you are making could be made (and not successfully) against any automation plan, in any sector of the economy.

  • JamesG

    At least until it screws up or there unforeseen consequences anyway.

  • duheagle

    Given the recent spate of outages of the decrepit 60’s-vintage radar and related equipment at the Eastern Test Range, I’d trust modern avionics and software over the current crumbling infrastructure. There are risks as well as costs in not modernizing too.

  • duheagle

    As near as I can determine from what’s been posted recently on forums such as this, the savings per launch would be in the vicinity of $500,000 per launch. The new system would be 75% to 80% cheaper than what’s in use now. That tends to happen when 60 years worth of advances in the state of the art are applied all at once.

    It is probably worth pointing out that such savings are of proportionally more importance the smaller and less expensive the launch vehicle involved. A half-million dollar saving looks a lot different when laid against a $5 million Electron mission or a $2 million Vector-R mission than when laid against a $62 million F9 or $90 million FH mission.

    It looks as though USAF will be entertaining bids to scrap the existing tracking infrastructure as soon as the transition to this new system is complete. With SpaceX already on-board and the other New Space launch companies sure to follow, the pacing item would seem to be how fast ULA gets with the new program. Given ULA’s imperative under its current management to cut costs as aggressively as possible, I’m thinking that’s going to be PDQ.

    Doubling, tripling or even more the annual launch cadence from CCAFS/Kennedy would goose up the South Florida economy to an extent not seen since the Apollo era, never mind that of the Shuttle era.

  • Terry Stetler

    Vandenberg is getting a similar setup, and the first SpaceX use of an autonomous flight termination system was actually when F9R Dev-1 suffered a sensor failure and self-terminated at McGregoe.