Range Safety Officer

Range Safety Officer

In the field of rocketry, Range Safety Officer (RSO) is a generic term referring to an individual who monitors the performance of rockets in flight, and who is responsible for their remote destruction if it should be judged that they pose a hazard. At NASA, the range safety goal is for the general public to be as safe during range operations as they are in their normal day-to-day activities. [cite web |url=http://kscsma.ksc.nasa.gov/Range_Safety/Overview.htm |title=NASA Range Safety Overview | publisher=NASA]

Launch corridor

Rockets are usually launched into a space above the launch range called the "launch corridor". If rocket engines fail while the rocket flies inside the launch corridor, the rocket falls on the ground in an uninhabited area. Engine failure outside the launch corridor may cause the rocket to fall on people or property. Therefore if the rocket is about to exit the launch corridor, the RSO will turn off powered flight to ensure that no debris falls outside the launch corridor. This emergency engine cutoff is usually done by destroying the rocket using radio controlled explosive charges, due to the high reliability of explosives.

Eastern Range

For launches from the Eastern Range, which includes Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the MFCO (Mission Flight Control Officer) is responsible for the safe flight of the vehicle up to orbital insertion, or, in the event that the launch is of a ballistic type, until all pieces have fallen safely to earth. Despite a common misconception, the MFCO is not part of the Safety Office but, rather is part of the Operations group of the Range Squadron of the 45th Space Wing of the Air Force, and who is considered a direct representative of the Wing Commander. The MFCO is guided in making destruct decisions by as many as three different types of computer display graphics, generated by the Flight Analysis section of Range Safety. One of the primary displays for most vehicles is a vacuum impact point display in which drag, vehicle turns, wind, and explosion parameters are built into the corresponding graphics. Another includes a vertical plane display with the vehicle’s trajectory projected onto two planes. For the Space Shuttle, the primary display a MFCO uses is a continuous real time foot print, a moving closed simple curve indicating where most of the debris would fall if the MFCO were to destroy the Shuttle at that moment. Range safety at the Western Range (Vandenberg Air Force Base in California) is controlled using a somewhat similar set of graphics and display system.

RSOs are also present in the hobby of model rocketry. In this case, they are usually responsible for ensuring a rocket is built correctly, using a safe engine/recovery device, and being launched correctly. There is no remote destruct capability available in model rocketry.

Range safety in manned spaceflight

Even for U.S. manned space missions, the RSO has authority to order the remote destruction of the launch vehicle if it shows signs of being out of control during launch, and if it crosses pre-set abort limits designed to protect populated areas from harm. The U.S. space shuttle orbiter does not have destruct devices, but the solid rocket boosters (SRBs) and external fuel tank do.

After the Space Shuttle Challenger broke up in flight, the RSO ordered the uncontrolled, free-flying SRBs destroyed before they could pose a threat.

Despite the fact that the RSO continues work after Kennedy Space Center hands over control to Mission Control at Johnson Space Center, he or she is not considered to be a flight controller. The RSO works at the Range Operations Control Center at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and the job of the RSO ends when the missile or vehicle moves out of range and is no longer a threat to any sea or land area (after completing First Stage Ascent) [http://history.nasa.gov/rogersrep/v1ch9.htm] .

See also

*Cape Canaveral Air Force Station
*Flight controller


* [http://history.nasa.gov/rogersrep/v1ch9.htm This article] includes an explanation of the Space Shuttle Range Safety System

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