Reentry on the Record

An artist’s rendition of the European Space Agency’s ATV spacecraft. Image credit: ESA, D. Ducros

The fourth Aerospace-designed Reentry Breakup Recorder returned to Earth Tuesday evening, Oct. 2, after successfully recording data during the reentry and breakup of the European Space Agency’s Automated Transfer Vehicle cargo ferry Edoardo Amaldi, known as ATV-3.

Recording began when ATV-3, carrying a load of trash from the International Space Station, entered the atmosphere and continued through breakup of the spacecraft, release of REBR during breakup, and REBR impact in the South Pacific Ocean.

According to REBR principal investigator Dr. Bill Ailor, a preliminary viewing of the data looks good. Assessment and analysis of the data is under way.

This is REBR’s fourth test flight and third success. Meanwhile, work has begun on the next version of the device — REBR-Wireless. The REBR-Wireless system will add a number of small, wireless sensors attached to critical structural elements in the host vehicle. REBR will record temperature, pressure, and other data from these small sensors as the host vehicle reenters and breaks apart. This data, added to the data stream that REBR transmits after a reentry, will provide details on reentry heating of large unprotected structures that can be used to verify reentry hazard prediction models and enable objects to be designed to minimize hazards to people and property after a reentry.

ATVs such as ATV-3 Edoardo Amaldi are the most complex space vehicles ever developed in Europe and are the largest resupply ships to dock with the International Space Station. They are also the heaviest spacecraft in the world, weighing more than 20 tons at launch. ATV-3 was launched on March 23.

The REBR-4 and REBR-3 were launched by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in July. REBR-3 returned successfully last month.

REBR was developed by The Aerospace Corporation with funding and support from the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, the Air Force Safety Center, The Boeing Company, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and NASA Ames Research Center. REBR flight tests were integrated and flown under the direction of the Department of Defense’s Space Test Program.

Click here to view an interview with Ailor on NASA TV.

Click here to view an article about REBR on the NASA website.