ReEntry Breakup Recorder (REBR) - 07.19.17

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

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
The Reentry Breakup Recorder (REBR) tests a cost-effective system that rides a reentering space vehicle, records data during the reentry and breakup of the vehicle, and returns the data for analysis. Understanding how vehicles behave during atmospheric reentry gives future spacecraft developers unique information that can enhance design efficiencies and safety.
Science Results for Everyone
Breaking up is hard to do. This investigation tested devices that record data as space vehicles re-enter Earth’s atmosphere and break up. The devices transmitted temperature, acceleration, rotational rate, altitude, and location data from HTV2, HTV3 and ATV3 during re-entry. Major breakups occurred at lower altitudes than expected based on current models, so additional data are needed to explain the discrepancy. Results will be used to improve understanding of vehicle re-entry behavior, which will in turn help improve design and safety of space vehicles, minimizing risk to people and property below. Results also will be used to improve design of the recorders. 

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


Principal Investigator(s)
William Ailor, Ph.D., The Aerospace Corporation, El Segundo, CA, United States

Michael A. Weaver, Ph.D., The Aerospace Corporation, El Segundo, CA, United States
Daniel Rasky, Ph.D., NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, United States

The Aerospace Corporation, El Segundo, CA, United States
NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, United States
United States Department of Defense Space Test Program, Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX, United States

Sponsoring Space Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Sponsoring Organization
National Laboratory - Department of Defense (NL-DoD)

Research Benefits
Information Pending

ISS Expedition Duration
March 2011 - September 2011; May 2012 - September 2012

Expeditions Assigned

Previous Missions
ISS Expedition 27/28 is the first mission for REBR.

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Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • The Reentry Breakup Recorder (REBR) data improves the understanding of vehicle breakup during reentry, allowing improvements in prediction of the breakup process, increasing the accuracy of estimated casualty expectations, and thus limiting premature deorbiting of space hardware.

  • Data also enables space hardware design for disintegration into less hazardous fragments, thereby increasing mission life and reducing costs by eliminating the requirement for a controlled deorbit.

  • In the long term, this research assists in the development of a "black box" for commercial space transportation systems.

Casualty expectation for reentering space hardware is computed using reentry-survivability models that, in general, have not been validated against flight data from orbital reentries. In fact, observational data indicate that these models do not accurately predict the heating experienced in the rarified regime (between the free-molecular and continuum regimes, or typically between 74 and 120 km (40 and 65 nautical miles (nmi)) in altitude), and ad hoc corrections are used to account for this inaccuracy. Exclusive of the Space Shuttle Columbia accident, only a few fragments have been found on the ground and analyzed. Data obtained from a calibrated model would provide a more accurate basis on which to specify necessary re-design of space hardware to include features that will realistically minimize reentry ground hazard. Even better, sufficient data should lead to physical explanations of the apparent inaccuracy, allowing improved physical modeling.

The objective of the REBR flight test is to verify the use of a small, lightweight, autonomous system for recording temperatures, accelerations, and other data experienced by the host vehicle during reentry, surviving the breakup of the host vehicle, and finally “phoning home” the recorded data prior to impact of the recording device. Once verified, REBR can be attached to launch stages and spacecraft and the data collected from their reentries will expand our understanding of reentry breakup and related phenomena. A single launch may include more than one REBR.

The REBR design consists of a sensor suite composed of a GPS receiver, temperature sensors, accelerometers and rate gyros, a pressure sensor, electronics developed for Aerospace Corporation’s PICOSAT and modified for REBR, a commercially-available Iridium modem, a combination GPS/Iridium antenna, and batteries (one year lifetime in the dormant mode; no power required from host vehicle). All equipment is contained within an aeroshell design developed by NASA Ames Research for the Deep-Space-2 Mars probes. The thermal protection system is provided by The Boeing Company. Total weight of the flight system, which includes all sensors, electronics, and batteries, will be approximately 4 kg (9 pounds) and the maximum dimension is approximately 31 cm (1 foot). The device, enclosed in its protective housing, is attached to an available location on the host vehicle. Including the housing, the device weighs approximately 8.6 kg (19 pounds) and has a maximum dimension of 36 cm (14 in). The device is carried to orbit attached to the host vehicle (or can be carried to orbit in a storage bag and attached by crewmembers), begins to record data during reentry, and remains attached to the host until the housing melts away during reentry breakup. Before and after release, the device is protected by its heat shield. At about 30 km (100,000 ft), the device is falling at subsonic velocity. At about 18.3 km (60,000 ft) the GPS/Iridium antenna is pointing to zenith; at this point, a phone call is made through the Iridium system and the device transmits its data to a ground-based computer. The location and time of reentry can be arbitrary and the device is not designed to survive ground impact. The recovery of the REBR hardware is not required.

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Space Applications
REBR will increase the understanding of vehicle breakup during reentry, potentially resulting in removing the need for deorbit propulsion capability, thereby decreasing cost and complexity and increasing mission life and payload mass budget.

Earth Applications
By gathering data regarding how a spacecraft breaks up during deorbit, future spacecraft could be designed to ensure that hazards to people and property are minimized, even if they become uncommandable and reenter randomly.

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Operational Requirements and Protocols
REBR provides details on the launch environment (loads, vibrations, etc.) The nominal mission profile, including launch accelerations, staging events, and orbit parameters for the host vehicle are required to assure the proper functioning of the REBR wake-up system. Coordinates of the physical location of the REBR device(s) in the host’s reference frame.Orientation of REBR in the host vehicle’s reference frame. Attachment constraints (footprint limitations, penetration or bonding restrictions, etc.). Environment at the attachment location (exposure to space environment, internal temperatures, cryogenic temperatures, etc.)
REBR collects data only during reentry, and the desire is to ride a host launch stage or spacecraft that will remain in orbit for a short time (i.e., less than one month). REBR remains attached to the host vehicle until separated during the reentry breakup phase.
Data is broadcast via the Iridium communications system to a ground-based computer. Data covers at most 30 minutes of flight, and the data file created is small. Data is disseminated to REBR team members via email or FTP site.

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Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

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Results/More Information

REBR devices were mounted inside HTV and ATV cargo vehicles prior to their hatch closure. Data were successfully retrieved from the HTV2, HTV3 and ATV3 REBR devices during re-entry, providing temperature, acceleration, rotational rate, altitude, and location data transmitted to the Iridium satellite system. These results are being used in conjunction with observed accelerations and tracking from both ground and on-board guidance navigation and control (GN&C) subsystems to better design trajectories of returning vehicles (Wada-2011). Data indicate that main structural breakup occurs between 74-64km.  According to the data, major breakups occurred at lower altitudes than were expected from current models. Additional data will be required to explain the discrepancy with the models. The results are also being used to design the next generation of REBR devices that will incorporate wireless sensors strategically placed within the deorbiting vehicle that will transmit data to the main REBR unit. This will improve re-entry risk assessments and support designing spacecraft to minimize re-entry hazards.

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Results Publications

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Ground Based Results Publications

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ISS Patents

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Related Publications

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Related Websites
Aerospace Corp

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image Reentry Breakup Recorder (REBR) prototype (larger than current design) recovered after 2006 balloon drop test (Aerospace photo).
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image NASA Image: ISS027E008574 - View of the Reentry Breakup Recorder (REBR) in the Kounotori H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV2) during Expedition 27.
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image REBR components (Aerospace Corporation image).
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image REBR assembly attached to HTV-2 (copper dome behind Expedition 27 Commander, Dmitry Kondratyev) (NASA photo).
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image Reentry Breakup Recorder (REBR) before first complete flight test (HTV-2, March 2010) Image courtesy of Aerospace Corporation.
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image NASA Image: ISS033E006506: REBR (Re-Entry Breakup Recorder) in ATV3 (Automated Transfer Vehicle 3) by the Expedition 33 crew.
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image NASA Image: ISS033E006509: REBR installed in ATV3 (Automated Transfer Vehicle 3)prior to activation by the Expedition 33 crew.
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