Aerospace Beats Odds to Deliver New REBR in Record Time

Geoff Maul sands excess sealing compound from the REBR-W heat shield on Nov. 11. (Photo: Dave Hinkley)

When the unmanned Antares rocket exploded Oct. 28, along with an Aerospace-built  Reentry Breakup Recorder-Wireless (REBR-W), it took only three minutes before NASA was on the phone with Aerospace asking for a replacement REBR-W.

The REBR-Ws are used to collect and transfer reentry data from vehicles returning to Earth from space. They measure hull temperatures, tumble and breakup dynamics and speed changes. NASA originally ordered two of these devices from Aerospace in July 2013 to be used as part of its safety verification process for the future reentry of the ISS. The first REBR-W was delivered one year later in July of this year, with the second one stored away in pieces for an undetermined future launch.

The REBR-W had been outfitted with custom wireless external sensors specifically designed to attach to the hull of an ATV-5 cargo carrier. The plan was for the REBR-W to arrive at the ISS and into the hands of the astronauts stationed there, who would later attach it to an ATV-5 that would then plummet back to Earth with a load of trash from the space station. The REBR-W would record the vessel’s breakup data. The second ordered REBR-W was built simultaneously, but without any customization, as it was not yet scheduled for any particular launch.

It took the Aerospace team a year to create, test, troubleshoot and deliver the first REBR-W. Troubleshooting alone can eat up months of time because of the nature of the comprehensive testing and retesting that has to be completed. Just one of the errors discovered while building the first REBR-W required six weeks to troubleshoot and correct.

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