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NASA Sounding Rocket Launched New Technologies
NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility launched new rocket technologies with a NASA suborbital sounding rocket mission on September 21.

The mission, Suborbital Technology Experiment Carrier (SubTEC) III, was designed to demonstrate multiple technologies, improve sounding rocket capabilities, and support range development initiatives. The SubTEC missions are intended to be low-cost missions using the two-stage Terrier-Orion launch vehicle.

The rocket’s primary payload, the NASA Autonomous Flight Safety System (AFSS), is an autonomous onboard system that can enhance the function of the human ground command flight termination system. In the event of a deviance off the nominal flight path, the AFSS is designed to generate a flight termination system destruct command, causing the rocket to break apart and keeping the public safe.

During this mission, the AFSS software evaluated the actual flight and also incorporated an imaginary “island” which the AFSS is designed to acknowledge with a destruct signal, although no actual destruct ordinance was flown on the test flight. Another Wallops technology development, the Low Cost Telemetry Transceiver, was used to return data and send commands through a tracking satellite.

Before the AFSS can be used as a real-time flight system, it must be proven to be worthy and ready for flight. This is the third successful flight of the AFSS. The first test flight dates back to 2006. The system will go through additional flights and testing on the path to become flight certified.

The Terrier-Orion rocket carried two additional payloads. The first was a NASA package of seven sensors to observe the rocket’s performance. The third payload was a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) payload designed to inform aircraft and air traffic control systems of the in-flight location and velocity of launch vehicles that could pose a collision hazard to aircraft.

The rocket was launched on September 21, 2010.

For more information about Wallops Flight Facility and its missions, visit