ATLANTA, GA, June 3, 2017 – US Astronauts Jack Fischer and Peggy Whitson have successfully activated and installed Terminal Velocity Aerospace’s (TVA) three RED-Data2 flight units into the S.S. John Glenn Cygnus spacecraft in preparation for their reentry research mission. Operations aboard the International Space Station began at approximately 3:30 AM EDT and were supported by TVA’s ground operations team in Atlanta. The three units are currently in a power saving standby mode aboard the OA-7 Cygnus cargo vessel in advance of un-berth operations on Sunday, June 4, 2017.
TVA’s mission to collect valuable thermal protection system (TPS) flight research data for NASA will begin roughly 5 – 10 days after the Cygnus leaves the Space Station. Cygnus has several remaining on-orbit tasks to complete before it is commanded to reenter the Earth’s atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean. TVA’s three RED-Data2 spacecraft are designed to experience free flight and survive the extreme heat rates of reentry after disintegration of Cygnus. Research data will be telemetered from the spacecraft before they are expended into the ocean. Each of the three units is testing a different heat shield material for NASA.
Mission Update – 28 July 2017.
Reentry of the Cygnus cargo vessel occurred as planned at approximately 1:00 PM – 1:15 PM EDT on Sunday, June 11. The cargo vehicle was disposed into the South Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately, no TPS data was received from any of the RED-Data 2 units that were aboard. Subsequent input received from Iridium’s ground data center revealed that no contact or attempted contact was received from any of the three Iridium modems inside the RED-Data 2 units either during the reentry phase or in the hours subsequent.
Terminal Velocity Aerospace immediately stood up a failure investigation team. The team carefully reviewed video data received from NASA related to the activation process and telemetry data received from Orbital-ATK just prior to reentry. In addition, a series of extensive electrical and mechanical hardware tests were conducted on the flight backup unit in Atlanta. The flight software was carefully reviewed and verified. Unfortunately, no conclusive and/or causal evidence was found in these investigations that would explain the mission failure. Working with our sponsors at NASA JSC and NASA Ames, the failure investigation team has recommended several small changes to the activation procedures and the RED-Data 2 configuration that should improve the reliability of future RED-Data 2 flights. Unfortunately, some potential causes of the failure, such as direct debris impact during breakup, are extremely difficult to eliminate entirely.
The TVA team is certainly disappointed in the outcome of this mission, but we continue to believe in the importance of capturing flight quality TPS temperature and recession data as well as upper atmosphere spacecraft breakup data. We plan to make adjustments where we can, and we look forward to future flights of the RED-Data 2.