Thermal Protection Material Flight Test and Reentry Data Collection (RED-Data2) - 12.06.17

Overview | Description | Applications | Operations | Results | Publications | Imagery

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
Defunct satellites, spent rocket stages, debris and other orbital trash frequently reenters Earth’s atmosphere, where most of it breaks up and disintegrates before hitting the ground. But some large objects can survive reentry and threaten people and property. The Thermal Protection Material Flight Test and Reentry Data Collection (RED-Data2) investigation studies a new type of recording device that rides along a vehicle reentering Earth’s atmosphere, providing crucial data about the extreme conditions a spacecraft encounters during atmospheric reentry.
Science Results for Everyone
Information Pending

The following content was provided by John Dec, Ph.D., and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Experiment Details

OpNom: Reentry Data Collector

Principal Investigator(s)
John Dec, Ph.D., Terminal Velocity Aerospace, LLC, Atlanta, GA, United States

Jose Cardona, Terminal Velocity Aerospace, LLC, Atlanta, GA, United States
Wahaj Kahn, Terminal Velocity Aerospace, LLC, Atlanta, GA, United States

NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX, United States
NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, United States
Terminal Velocity Aerospace, LLC, Atlanta, GA, United States

Sponsoring Space Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Sponsoring Organization
Technology Demonstration Office (TDO)

Research Benefits
Earth Benefits, Space Exploration, Scientific Discovery

ISS Expedition Duration
April 2017 - September 2017

Expeditions Assigned

Previous Missions
Information Pending

^ back to top

Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • The Thermal Protection Material Flight Test and Reentry Data Collection (RED-Data2) is a soccer ball-sized capsule that rides along with a host vehicle to collect engineering data during atmospheric reentry and breakup.
  • Several research objectives are achieved through flight of this small, low-cost reentry device. The primary objective of the RED-Data2 vehicle is to serve as a test-bed for testing and demonstrating high-temperature materials in actual flight conditions. These flight conditions can then be simulated in an arc jet test facility using a slightly modified RED-Data2 vehicle to facilitate ground test to flight traceability.
  • RED-Data2 data collected while aboard the reentering host vehicle increases scientific understanding of how space vehicles breakup during reentry, providing additional insight to engineers designing vehicles to survive or intentionally be destroyed.
  • RED-Data2 also serves to demonstrate key technologies for Terminal Velocity Aerospace's RED-4U recoverable small payload return system. RED-4U stands to accelerate space-based research and discovery by enabling high-frequency return of samples and other experiment products. In the longer term, the capability may be extended to asteroid and planetary sample return missions.


Planetary entry and high speed atmospheric flight are key aspects of the evolution of space transportation, but remain technically challenging for aerospace vehicle designers. The Thermal Protection Material Flight Test and Reentry Data Collection (RED-Data2) small reentry capsule offers a means of gathering valuable first-hand data on the reentry environment and aerothermal exposure. By hitchhiking along with an expendable spacecraft during reentry, RED-Data2 also collects data on reentry and breakup of the host vehicle. After breakup, the capsule is inserted into high temperature flows allowing for testing of new materials.
The primary objective of this first RED-Data2 flight from the International Space Station (ISS) is to perform reentry flight test of two new formulations of conformal thermal protection system material developed by NASA Ames Research Center and a new version of Avcoat which is being used on the Orion crew module heatshield. The lightweight Conformal Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablator (C-PICA) and Conformal Silicone Impregnated Refractory Ceramic Ablator (C-SIRCA) materials have performance and manufacturability advantages by comparison to their predecessor materials. In addition, the ability to produce conformal gores and higher strain-to-failure of the material allows for direct bonding and no gap fillers in heat shield construction. These materials were developed over a multi-year effort at NASA Ames Research Center. Extensive ground testing in arc-jet facilities has been performed, but it has not yet flown.
Flight test of this material enables its use not only for TVA's REDs, but for other users and missions as well. The new Avcoat is molded in large billets which can be machined into gores as opposed to the previous version in which the Avcoat slurry was injected into individuals cells of a honeycomb structure attached to the crew module forebody structure. The use of molded Avcoat will reduce manufacturing cost and the time required to build a heat shield. Flight test of materials with RED-Data2 supplements other means of ground-based characterization, providing a bridge between coupon size and large scale systems. The materials development community faces challenges in transitioning high-temperature ablative materials and composites from the laboratory to hypersonic flight and planetary entry missions due to a lack of experimental data in those extreme environments and limited manufacturing maturity. There is a need to qualify materials in relevant environments, but arc-jet facilities simulate only a limited range of the flight regime for some missions. This is exacerbated for higher capability materials that are needed for more demanding future planetary missions (e.g. Venus, Saturn). The RED-Data2 capability represents a new paradigm where sufficient confidence can be built by fabricating and testing these new complex materials at a subscale level.
In addition to materials flight testing, RED-Data2 provides data in the previously unobservable flight regime of reentry to help industry experts better understand the physics and dynamics of atmospheric reentry. Data from actual reentry and breakup events is valuable for improving safety of the reentering vehicle and uninvolved bystanders on the ground. Currently, there is little data available to calibrate reentry models, improve our ability to predict the reentry breakup process, or develop design criteria for future space hardware. Uncontrolled reentry of space debris occurs across the globe with between 10 - 40% of the total mass of a de-orbiting satellite or rocket known to survive atmospheric reentry. While most of this debris falls harmlessly in the ocean or uninhabited areas, there is a measurable risk to people and property especially in the case of an inflight anomaly. Space system operators designing for a controlled reentry must allocate significant propellant and other resources to ensure a deorbit into remote ocean areas, increasing mission cost and limiting payload mass. RED-Data2 collects data on vehicle location, acceleration, temperature, pressure and attitude during reentry. This data allows for development of better hazard prediction models and enhances knowledge on designing for demise, thus improving safety across the space industry.

^ back to top


Space Applications
This investigation collects data on what happens to spacecraft in the intense heat and pressures of reentry, which scientists have been unable to test on large scales. Results provide new information about how space vehicles break up in Earth’s atmosphere. This is useful for engineers designing spacecraft that would break up intentionally to avoid harming people and property, as well as spacecraft that can withstand reentry forces. The investigation also tests two new lightweight materials that can be used in heat shields on small spacecraft. The materials would be beneficial for large vehicles designed to reenter the atmospheres of Earth and Mars.

Earth Applications
This investigation improves efforts to understand spacecraft reentry, including increased accuracy of spacecraft breakup predictions. Better knowledge of how spacecraft break up while reentering Earth’s atmosphere improves design of future spacecraft. In addition, developing materials that can resist extremely high temperatures benefits future high-speed transportation systems on Earth, both in the air and on the ground.

^ back to top


Operational Requirements and Protocols
For the RED-Data2 ISS mission, an expendable host vehicle (e.g. Cygnus, HTV) is required. Orbital parameters and reentry conditions can be selected depending on the host vehicle de-orbit capability, desired test conditions of the RED-Data2 thermal protection material, and safety constraints. Launch and delivery to ISS can be accomplished with any available vehicle. It is desired to minimize the time between arrival at ISS and reentry in order to expedite science results; however, the RED-Data2 may remain stowed on-orbit for more than one year if necessary. The RED-Data2 must be powered/activated no more than 12 hours prior to departure of the visiting vehicle. RED-Data2 collects data during the reentry phase of flight. The RED-Data2 capsule is launched and stored on ISS within its housing in a soft-stow cargo transfer bag. Prior to departure of the host vehicle, the housing is mounted within the pressurized volume and the device is activated. Collected data is transmitted using the Iridium network (1616 to 1626.5 MHz) only after the RED-Data2 capsule is released from its housing and emerges from the ionization blackout zone during reentry.

^ back to top

Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

^ back to top

Results/More Information

Information Pending

^ back to top

Related Websites
Terminal Velocity Aerospace, LLC

^ back to top


image NASA Image: ISS040E098572 - Dark view of the Orbital Cygnus 2 reentry taken by the Expedition 40 crew. Light streak from reentry visible in frame.
+ View Larger Image