Terminal Velocity Aerospace to Improve Reentry Safety

Reentry breakup illustration (Credits:TVA).

On July 10, Terminal Velocity Aerospace (TVA) began operations in Atlanta, Georgia. The new company is dedicated to improving reentry event safety by improving reentry modelling and prediction capabilities.

“Terminal Velocity is proactively working to reduce the uncertainty associated with atmospheric reentry and breakup of spacecraft and launch vehicle stages,” said Dominic DePasquale, the company’s CEO. “Our products directly address the needs of the reentry safety and design communities.”

TVA is offering a a line of “RED” products – for ReEntry Device. The first product available, RED-Data, is an 8 kg heat shield-enclosed device designed to collect data during reentry and transmit it prior to hitting the ground. The device is based on Aerospace Corporation’s patented Reentry Breakup Recorder which TVA is licensing. TVA has also established a research and development partnership with the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Space Systems Design Laboratory. TVA’s future pipeline addresses more advanced needs, such as performing technology testing during reentry, placing multiple sensors to track more than one segment of a broken craft, and equipping crewed spacecraft with a device analogous to the Black Box carried by aircraft that can fully account for the craft’s movements in case of accident.

Rendition of RED-Data reentering the atmosphere inside its protective heat shield (Credits: TVA).

TVA says there is a fundamental lack of understanding of the reentry and breakup process. This is primarily because, except for specially designed spacecraft like personnel capsules, most spacecraft are not only not designed to withstand 1650°C temperatures and more than 7G acceleration, they are intended to breakup. Those atmospheric breakups are the best method currently available for removing spacecraft from orbit. However, TVA reports, 10-40% of the mass of these reentering craft survive their fiery journey through the atmosphere. These components, typically dense, high melting materials such as fuel tanks, can pose a public danger where they land. And currently, that location cannot be identified in advance.

 A recent example of this is the uncontrolled reentry of the defunct satellite ROSAT. Although the satellite ended up splashing down harmlessly in the Bay of Bengal, later studies showed that a few minutes shift in the reentry timing could have put the craft down in the middle of Beijing.  The ability to predict such possibilities in advance would allow the public to take reasonable precautions.

TVA’s approach to monitoring spacecraft during reentry complements the Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies (CORDS). The CORDS initiative, sponsored by TVA partner The Aerospace Corporation, aims to study debris that has already crashed on Earth. By studying this debris, they hope to reconstruct how it came to its final landing place.

Below, ROSAT’s reentry and prediction:

 

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