Range Safety Group Sets Sights on Autonomous Flight Systems Policy

Range Safety Group Sets Sights on Autonomous Flight Systems Policy

4-minute read
Range Safety Group — UAV

Attendees of the Range Commanders Council’s (RCC) 117th Range Safety Group (RSG) Technical Interchange Meeting last November discussed the growing relevancy of autonomous flight systems in the Range Flight Safety community, as well as related policy changes needed to accommodate the new interest. In addition, they discussed resource protection, a launch vehicle failure, and upcoming policy and risk criteria changes related to Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). The meeting was hosted by the Missile Defense Agency at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama, and attended by representatives from government agencies and industries with ties to and interest in the U.S. National Test Ranges.

Autonomous Flight Systems

The Flight Termination System (FTS) Committee focused on autonomous flight safety systems, specifically, how the use of such systems should be addressed in Range Flight Safety policies. Programs, like NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, are facing the incorporation of autonomy into their flight systems.

“Autonomous means it’s an internally controlled, software-driven system,” explained Chuck Loftin, program manager for NASA’s Range Flight Safety Program. “The community is getting away from ‘man-in-the-loop’ type systems, and there is a need to start addressing software from a flight safety system perspective.”

During this session, the 30th Space Wing gave a follow-on presentation from their Autonomous Flight Safety Systems brief, initially presented at the 115th RCC meeting in 2014. The initial presentation focused on the fact that RRC 319-14, Flight Termination Systems Commonality Standard, references other documents and policies for launch safety software and computing system requirements for Autonomous Flight Safety Systems, but lacks its own requirements for these systems. Although there are generic software processes in place, there is no existing policy that specifically addresses software safety requirements as they apply to flight safety system needs.

This meeting’s follow-on led to a discussion about including a chapter in the RCC 319-14 to capture software requirements for Flight Safety Systems. Joe Nguyen, FTS committee chair from the 30th Space Wing, is championing the RCC 319-14 update effort. The 30th Space Wing has a few team members that specialize in software, making them well equipped to create generic requirements that all involved organizations could adopt.

Other Committee Highlights

FTS Committee

The FTS Committee also discussed updating RCC-324-01 Global Positioning and Inertial Measurements Range Safety Tracking Systems’ Commonality Standard and RCC-313-01 Test Standards for Flight Termination Receivers/Decoders. The committee decided to meet several times prior to the next RSG meeting to start identifying potential requirements updates in those documents. 

Armstrong Flight Research Center briefed the committee on updates regarding Enhanced Flight Termination System (EFTS) testing and requirements. Several vendors also presented information and specifics on their EFTS receivers and other flight termination receivers that can be used on launch vehicles as well as Unmanned Aircraft Systems.

UAV Committee

The UAV Committee focused on continuing the major update to RCC 323-99 Range Safety Criteria for Unmanned Air Vehicles.          

During the previous RSG meeting, the committee generated an outline of the planned rewrite. Members discussed the outline and used it while rewriting the first three sections of RCC-323. Other discussions centered on risk management and mitigations, casualty expectation calculation and criteria, as well as property damage considerations. The session concluded with updates to the outline and proposed revised text for the remainder of the document; members will continue to review, update and submit comments prior to the next RSG.

Risk Committee

The Risk Committee discussed numerous topics, one of which was the update to RCC-321-10 Common Risk Criteria Standards for National Test Ranges. A draft of the update should be out in early 2016 and include updates in areas such as protection of ships, surveillance, aircraft vulnerability, and collision avoidance.  Another main topic was infrastructure protection and risk management, which is related to the open Resource Protection RSG task. 

Main Committee

Presenters in the Main Committee provided progress updates on the current RSG task concerning resource protection, which is to develop a set of standards to protect critical public infrastructure during launch and flight operations. There is still more work to be done identifying assets and quantifying risks during specific range operations, which was discussed in depth in the Risk Committee.

There also was a briefing provided to the Main Committee regarding the Flight Test-2 launch vehicle failure that occurred in Kodiak, Alaska, in 2014. There were several anomalies identified as contributing causes, and the anomalies related to the FTS were of particular interest.


The RCC was founded in 1951 to provide a way for Department of Defense test ranges to communicate and discuss common problems pertaining to all federal test ranges. The RSG, a part of RCC, continues to provide a forum for ranges to standardize, develop and improve upon a variety of subjects and processes related to range safety. NASA participates in this forum on a regular basis and became an official voting member at the RCC in 2008. 

For more background and information, visit the RCC website.