Rocket Lab’s Elektron rocket was launched using NASA’s new flight safety system

(ORDO NEWS) — The American Rocket Lab Electron rocket was launched at midnight on January 25 from Launch Complex 2 on Wallops Island.

This launch was carried out with the help of the new NASA Autonomous Flight Termination Unit (NAFTU) safety system.

“NASA has installed an autonomous in-flight termination system unlike any other in operation today, filling a critical gap in the modernization of our national launch pads,” said David L. Pierce, director of the Wallops Space Center.

“We are proud to have made this and future Rocket Lab Elektron launches in the US possible with our game-changing flight safety technology.”

NAFTU was designed to be used by launch service providers at all US test sites to ensure public safety during launch. To date, 18 companies have requested NAFTU software. Rocket Lab became one of the first contenders.

Ensuring public safety is the main task of any launch site. Launches performed without automated flight safety systems depend on security personnel to monitor all phases of the missile’s flight using ground-based tracking and telemetry.

If the missile deviates from its course, the range’s security personnel send commands to abort the flight.

Security systems such as NAFTU are being installed to make autonomous flight termination decisions in real time.

This capability provides many benefits such as wider launch windows and smaller security corridors.

In addition, since the unit is self-contained and mounted on a missile, the need for ground-based tracking and telemetry systems is greatly reduced, reducing overall O&M costs.

“Launch rates are increasing across all of our country’s test sites, while the ground facilities required for launches are becoming more and more costly to maintain,” Pierce said.

“Many of these problems are eliminated by the benefits of autonomous flight safety systems such as NAFTU.”

Wallops, in collaboration with NASA Headquarters, Kennedy Space Center, the US Air Force and Space Forces, and the Federal Aviation Administration, began developing NAFTU in 2020, when the program received full funding.

Preliminary certification of the device has been issued for Rocket Lab’s first Elektron mission, with full certification expected by January 31, 2023.


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