Sagrad has received numerous requests for information regarding the AFTU re-qualification status and the wait times for delivering flight and engineering development units (EDU) so we have prepared this Q&A update on the timeline and expected production runs after qualification is complete.
Long lead items and a higher than anticipated interest has resulted in a need to manage production schedules for flight units. This update serves two purposes: first, for Sagrad to publish details of the program and second, to obtain feedback so that the program is successful for everyone.
Update October 11, 2019: It’s been a number of weeks since our last update when we reported completion of acceptance and qualification testing of the Sagrad-NASA AFTU test articles. Since that time, we have been extremely busy, but some are wondering why we’ve been quiet. So, we’ve updated this Q&A with a few new sections to help answer that.
What's the latest?
On October 11th, we reported that the final Internal Inspection of three of the four qualification units has been completed. These inspections were performed by opening each unit and performing visual evaluation of the housings, connectors, and circuit boards. Overall the inspections revealed no visual or mechanical issues - the test articles held up well through the comprehensive qualification testing regime. The fourth unit is undergoing a full disassembly in order to perform a comprehensive inspection of both sides of all circuit boards which is still in process. We will provide another update once this is complete.
Why is it taking so long?
This is the big question on everyone’s mind, so we want to provide some context first.
Developing a first-generation product for the aerospace industry is inherently difficult, with many challenges and unforeseen difficulties. This is particularly true for producing a launch vehicle flight safety device compliant Range Commanders Council flight termination system requirements.
Initially Sagrad was funded to produce and qualify the first NASA AFTU, but as this funding diminished, we found ourselves in a position of having to self-fund the program. To do so, we’ve had to run ‘lean and mean’ to see the project through. We have an extremely talented team of dedicated engineers and support staff, but we are indeed a small team. While being lean has its advantages, it has required us to go at a slower pace than many would like.
Currently, the team is enhancing the data processing methods to ensure comprehensive analysis is both accurate and complete. Over the last few weeks continued enhancements have improved our analysis of this data set which will allow clarity in both flight assurance and public safety. Improvements have included processing and reporting thousands of flights or test scenarios required by the test plans.
What has been your biggest challenge so far?
Beyond experiencing mechanical issues associated with the internal GPS and a Mil-Spec capacitor during our 2018 qualification testing, our biggest hurdle these past few weeks has been organizing, analyzing, and preparing the test data for presentation. There is no easy solution to manage the sheer volume of acquired data. To meet the challenge, we’ve had to adapt our company infrastructure to backup, store, process, and output the data in a presentable format. So far only a few small issues exists, which must be written up and explained. Many of these occurred during the last qual program, and nearly all are due to test methods/processes not always yielding the proper stimulus to the unit all cases.
Why is there so much data?
Qualification testing required us to run approximately 8,000 flight scenarios from which nearly 800,000,000 data units are produced. Supporting this amount of data has required us to develop our own data-processing software and create a unique system that will provide the proper level of reporting to support a successful qualification program and acceptance tests for every Flight AFTU to be delivered to our customers into the future. The good news is that, with this system in place, many future qualification programs will be processed very quickly.
So, now that this system is in place, when do you expect to complete final acceptance?
As many of you know, we still have one major hurdle, that of final acceptance by NASA, the Air Force, and the FAA range representatives. We have begun presenting our reports and supporting data to these stakeholders and will continue to do so into late October. We anticipate continued constructive, timely feedback from our range representatives, with final acceptance dictated by their schedules. We will remain in active communication with them through the process.
What does that mean for your launch schedule?
While we don’t have a final estimate on qualification acceptance, there is a tremendous amount of pressure to get this done. Those involved in the process are acutely aware that schedules and budgets hang in the balance. We have continued to state that we have a high level of confidence in the product, and after an initial review of the data and internal inspections, we still do.
We’re continuing to provide our customers with support during this period, including product Acceptance Test reports, data, and support of their flight licensing requirements with their range representatives.
What is the qualification schedule?
AFTU Acceptance Tests began in May, with qualification tests beginning June 17th. We expect qualification to wrap up about the end of October. The schedule below highlights the testing sequence and key planned testing milestones.
Flight Qualification Testing of 4 NASA/Sagrad AFTU test articles is in progress. Milestones are shown here with completions and anticipated completion dates in parentheses:
- Acceptance Testing completed
- Transportation & Bench Handling Shock tests completed
- Transportation Random Vibration tests completed
- Thermal Cycle (24-cycles) tests completed
- Temperature / Humidity / Altitude tests - completed
- Shock and Vibration tests completed
- Electromagnetic Interference tests completed
- Repetitive Function tests completed
- Circuit Protection tests completed
- Final Full Functional Test completed
- Internal Inspection - Three of the four units are complete. The fourth unit is undergoing full disassembly/inspection now.
How can we monitor the progress of final qualification acceptance?
How confident are you that the current AFTU design will pass qualification?
Due to the fact that the AFTU passed all qualification tests in January (only failing due to a minor capacitor issue that was replaced with a new surface mount part of the same value), we have a high level of confidence that the current AFTU design will pass qualification.
How will the Novatel GPS failure impact Qualification?
Unfortunately due to the rapidly changing designs from Novetel and its failure even after stabilized for vibration, we have decided to remove the GPS all together. This allows the unit to be external (easier to update and isolate) and improve the success of this qualification. A new unit will be available soon that will be much smaller.
When should we place an order?
Due to the long lead time of several parts, we have begun taking orders for delivery of units this Fall. Customers will be placed into the production queue on a first-come, first-served basis. We encourage those that need units in late 2019 or early 2020 to place an order even prior to qualification completion to ensure timely delivery of units.
What happens if you do not pass qualification?
This depends on the qualification issue. Generally the worst case timeline would be redesign time + build time + qual time = 130 days. Due to the fact that the units passed testing already, it is assumed the hardware is robust. Through hole capacitors were replaced with SMT for a single line item on the bom. Expectations are high the units will pass.
Are Engineering Development Units available?
Engineering Development Units (EDU) are currently available for customers; EDUs are identically designed, functionally-equivalent units intended to allow customer early hands-on AFTU operation, training, and integration into their overall Flight Safety System. They are not intended for flight but provide identical performance and interface capabilities. In a few cases resistors are replaced with commercial versions. Generally parts are not from the PPP controlled lots, but are the same parts.
Will Sagrad be providing training and support for AFTUs?
EDU systems generally include basic support for initial integration (remote phone support). Technical support can be purchased separately.
How can I inquire about support for AFTUs?
You can obtain phone support by calling 321-474-0974 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Generally a support person is named to accounts after a supply agreement and/or PO is put in place with direct contacts available for future support.
Will AFTUs come with a GPS?
It is unlikely this will happen. Sagrad is working on the next version of AFTU and then will create an external GPS.