Illustration: Gilmour Space Eris orbital rocket
The development of the AFTS for Gilmour Space’s Eris launch vehicle will establish a new paradigm for launch vehicles, reducing launch costs and providing a more versatile and reliable service to users.
SENER Aeroespacial, a company of the SENER engineering and technology group, and Australian launch services company Gilmour Space Technologies, are working together on an Autonomous Flight Termination System (AFTS) for the Eris launch vehicle, which is being developed for the small satellite market.
The AFTS is a smart Hardware/Software unit with autonomous decision-making capacity responsible for aborting a flight if any anomalies are identified. This system is of the highest criticality and will be subjected to a strict certification process.
SENER Aeroespacial is currently working on the first phase, developing the software processing algorithms necessary to collect and analyze the flight/vehicle parameters, identify deviations from the nominal trajectory and/or the status of the vehicle, and send, if necessary, the command to terminate the mission. The goal is to have the first prototype ready, in collaboration with Gilmour Space, for testing and certification prior to Eris’ maiden launch later this year.
The project aim is to successfully develop and demonstrate equivalence to current land-based systems in terms of performance and reliability, providing launch service providers and government launch organizations the ability to replace legacy systems that rely on costly land facilities and require manual operator intervention to terminate the mission. SENER Aeroespacial believes the AFTS will bring about a new paradigm in launch vehicle operations by improving both their versatility, by enabling more launches from places other than traditional launch centers; and their efficiency, by lowering the cost of operations.
This development builds on SENER’s launch vehicle heritage with AVIO’s hybrid navigation NAVIGA unit, which will be first used on the VEGA-C European launch vehicle. NAVIGA is a mission-critical system that combines equally two key elements for future space transport systems: cost reduction, by allowing for mass production, and versatility, thanks to the modular and flexible design, which allows a complete and certified unit to be adapted with minor modifications and testing to other environments.
In the words of Augusto Caramagno, Director of Institutional Programs at SENER Aeroespacial: “This new contract reinforces our position as a leader in a growing market in Europe, that of medium-cost space systems that offer good performance and high reliability. The AFTS is also joining our portfolio of highly critical onboard systems within the PNT (Positioning, Navigation and Timing) strategic line, where SENER Aeroespacial has considerable experience and has achieved a competitive advantage.“
For Gilmour Space, this international collaboration is another example of its growing focus on European markets. Said Adam Gilmour, CEO of Gilmour Space: “It’s great to be working with SENER Aeroespacial, an established space company with a strong track record for delivering high-performance systems. Given the progress, we’re confident that we will have a robust AFTS ready for our first Eris rocket launch in the second half of 2022.”