Japanese spacecraft's 'black box' recorder survives flaming fall to earth

When we reported on Japan's plans to track the re-entry process of its Kounotori 2 spacecraft with a black-box-style recorder, there were still some unanswered questions: specifically, would the REBR (Re-entry Breakup Recorder) sink or swim. Well, according to an announcement from the device's creator, the thing not only survived the fiery plunge to Earth, but it also stayed afloat after plunking down in the South Pacific Ocean on Tuesday. During free fall, the REBR did as it was expected, automatically monitoring, recording, and eventually transmitting data about the re-entry process, and while the thing was admittedly "not designed to survive impact with the water," it continued relaying information even after landing. The next scheduled REBR mission is planned for June -- here's hoping the new guy's as buoyant as its buddy. Full PR after the break.

Show full PR text

First REBR Reentry a Success

EL SEGUNDO, March 30 -- The first Reentry Breakup Recorder (REBR), an instrument designed and constructed by engineers at The Aerospace Corporation, successfully recorded data as it plunged through the atmosphere on Tuesday night aboard the disintegrating Japanese HTV-2 spacecraft.

The REBR then "phoned home" the data via the Iridium satellite system as it fell into the South Pacific Ocean Tuesday evening.

"It performed beautifully," said Dr. Bill Ailor, director of Aerospace's Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies and REBR development team leader. "The data we've gathered is absolutely unique and will shed new light on the phenomenon of how satellites and launch stages break apart on reentry."

Although it was not designed to survive impact with the water, the REBR did in fact remain intact and continued to transmit data for hours as it bobbed in the ocean between Chile and New Zealand. Analysis of the data will take six to eight weeks.

The REBR is a small autonomous device that is designed to record temperature, acceleration, rotation rate, and other data as a spacecraft reenters Earth's atmosphere.

The Aerospace Corporation designed REBR to collect data during atmospheric reentries of space hardware in order to help understand breakup and increase the safety of such reentries. The REBR project was supported by the U.S. Air Force, NASA, and the Boeing Company. The first flight test of the small, autonomous device was coordinated by the Department of Defense's Space Test Program.

A second REBR will reenter the atmosphere aboard the European ATV2 vehicle in early June.