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Key dates

2016 March 23: launch
2016 June 14: undock
2016 June 20: GXRS upload
2016 June 22: re-entry


William H. Ailor (The Aerospace Corporation)
Peter Jenniskens (SETI Inst.)

Research library

+ WT1190F Reentry Observing Campaign

+ ATV-5 Reentry Observing Campaign

+ ATV-1 Reentry Observing Campaign

Science team:

P. Jenniskens - SETI Institute
INT2 - Wide field imaging on approach.

R. Dantowitz - Dexter Southfield
RED1, LDVS - Narrow field high resolution imaging and spectroscopy.

F. Gasdia - Embry Riddle AU
RED2, HDVS - Wide field high resolution imaging and spectroscopy.

S. Loehle - Univ. Stuttgart
ECHELLE - High resolution Echelle spectroscopy.

D. Buttsworth - Univ. S. Queensland
AUS, INT1 - High resolution near-UV spectroscopy.

J. Feeley - Aerospace Corporation
HDTV - Wide field imaging on retreat.

E. Sansom - Curtin University
PHOT - High speed photometry.

J. Albers - SETI Institute
ALLSKY - Navigation support and wide field imaging from cockpit.

Mission: A multi-instrument airborne campaign to monitor the shallow reentry of Cygnus OA6 over the south Pacific ocean to put REBR-W data in context and better understand the physics of the end of life International Space Station de-orbit and the physics of shallow uncontrolled reentries.


Movie of Cygnus OA6 reentry in widefield camera (click on image).

June 23, 2016 - We finished lamp calibrations at Sydney airport this evening and are now on our way home.

June 22, 2016 - Michael Weaver reports that REBR-W did not transmit the breakup data collected from inside Cygnus OA6. [More]

Cygnus final moments
The final fiery moments of Cygnus OA6. Photo: SETI Institute/Aerospace Corporation/Curtin University.
The RED Team captured this optical spectrum of Cygnus OA6 during the reentry, showing emission lines from magnesium, sodium and lithium atoms, as well as emission bands from aluminum oxide radicals. Photo: SETI Institute/Aerospace Corporation/Dexter Southfield.

June 22, 2016 - Success! Cygnus OA6 re-entered at 13:29 UT, June 22, creating a horizon-to-horizon meteor. Observers onboard a chartered aircraft for the Cygnus OA6 "S.S. Rick Husband" Re-entry Observation Campaign first detected the vehicle as a star-like object near the western horizon. Conditions were ideal, with a clear horizon and cloud cover well below the aircraft. The aicraft flew an observing leg several 100's of km north of the entry trajectory at an altitude of 43,000 ft. Mike Koop and Jim Albers managed to isolate the earlier interference and make our GPS and timing equipment correctly lock onto the gps network. A full moon lit the landscape. While slowly approaching the viewing area, Peter Jenniskens recorded how Cygnus became rapidly brighter, then more slowly so. It was imaged passing by the plane from the cockpit by Jim Albers and when it emerged on the oher side and in view of the high resolution imagers and spectrographs of the RED Team, led by Ron Dantowitz, it was a distinct orange in color and created a slew of fragments. There was no bright flare from a main disruption. Instead a number of smaller events gradually broke the vehicle into a cloud of debris. Ever changing spectroscopic signatures were detected that are expected to shed light on the sequence of how the vehicle breaks up in such a shallow reentry. The DIM instrument operated by Janna Feeley tracked the object and its wake until it slowed more, turned deep orange, and finally disappeared behind the eastern horizon. The final moments of Cygnus OA6 were captured in the still image by Eleanor Sansom shown above. Cygnus, thank you!

The REBR-W team at the Aerospace Corporation and the spacecraft operators at Orbital ATK, as well as the staff of ExecuJet, made an exceptional effort to get our team to a prime viewing location for this morning's Cygnus reentry. We sincerely appreciate the support from all that were involved.

flight path
Aircraft flight path from Christchurch to Sydney.

Global XPS next to SOFIA
Cygnus OA6 Reenry Observation Campaign aircraft parked at Christchurch airport, New Zealand, alongside NASA's SOFIA airborne observatory.

group photo
The Cygnus OA6 reentry observation campaign team in Sydney ready for deployment, with ExecuJet pilot Chris Eggeling and Charter Sales Manager for Australasia Roxanne Pace.

June 21, 2016 - The setup of the instruments was completed in time this afternoon. Power checks showed all instruments were drawing as expected, but the aircraft 110V/60Hz voltage was a low 96 V, instead. The windows were cleaned and, after a quick warm dinner and customs, we had an on-time departure to Christchurch New Zealand at 8:25 a.m. UT (18:25 local time). We spend much of the 3-h flight setting up and testing the cameras. After lights out the DIM instrument showed a moon-lit cloud deck with a sea of stars. The low voltage made some of our pointing cameras more noisy, but the instruments were able to cope. Again we found that our gps and timing systems were not able to lock on to the gps network. Tomorrow, on our science flight, we plan to lock prior to departure.

Leaving Sydney. Photo by Eleanor Sansom.

David Buttsworth, University of Southern Queensland, and Steven Lewis, University of Queensland, with the AUS instrument.

Peter Jenniskens, SETI Institute, working from the other side of the aircraft, is set up to detect the approach of Cygnus near the western horizon.

Jim Albers (left, background) and Mike Koop (right), SETI Institute, with navigation, gps, and timing data distribution systems. Tobias Hermann (left, foreground) with ECHELLE instrument operations.

The RED Team, with participants from Clay Center Observatory, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, Olin College, and Boston College, will use seat motion and rails to provide a wider azimuth range of view for the RED1 (LDVS) and RED2 (HDVS) cameras and spectrographs.
Janna Feeley from the Aerospace Corporation (Left) and Eleanor Sansom from Curtin University (right) make the first observations with the HDTV and PHOT instruments.

June 20, 2016 - This afternoon, we met with the aircraft operators and our pilots. All team members received their mission patches and were taken to inspect the aircraft interior. Stations were assigned. The passenger lounge became a temporary assembly laboratory. Biggest challenge is how best to use the narrow aircraft windows and still have a wide azimuth range for view. At the end of the day, the Echelle, RED1, RED2, DIM, PHOT and INT cameras were installed, with AUS still to do. Tomorrow, we will finish the cabling, install the light curtains, do the power checks, and sort out how best to store the cameras for takeoff and landing. In early evening, we will depart to New Zealand.

June 20, 2016 - We landed safely in Sydney this morning, all team members accounted for. It is winter in the southern hemisphere. Jet stream and thunderstorms gave us a bumpy ride in. Weather is improving the coming days, hopefully enough for us to take off and land at our planned times.

Red 1 and 2 cameras
Red1 and Red2 camera systems

June 18, 2016 - Ron Dantowitz and Forrest Gasdia, leads of a team from Dexter Southfield, Mars Scientific, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, Boston College and Olin College, report that the two compact Red camera systems have been checked in the laboratory and are now packed for transportation.

June 17, 2016 - The European team has departed to Sydney.

June 17, 2016 - The SETI Institute's Debbie Kolyer, Yvonne Nicholas, and Lisa Kanehiro report that the contractual paper work in preparation for the mission is in place. Debbie wishes us: "Safe travels! And let me know if you need anything. Lots of luck."

June 16, 2016 - Jim Albers reports that continguency planning for same-day re-entry is in place. Response to bad weather (high clouds) in the area would mean moving further north or further uprange to the trajectory.

June 16, 2016 - Stefan Loehle reports that the funding for the European team for the upcoming re-entry observation was approved by ESA.

This is not a flower but the AUS instrument during lab tests.

June 15, 2016 - David Buttsworth of USQ reports that in addition to the main AUS instrument for near-UV spectroscopy, he plans to also deploy two small pointgrey cameras. One has a 300 lines/mm grating that will give a spectral range from about 600 to 900 nm and is mounted at an angle of 13.5 degrees. The other camera has a small 6 element filter wheel and indexes such that he will get about 3 frames per second.

June 14, 2016 - Cygnus has undocked. Read about the SAFFIRE-1 experiment. [The movie.]

June 14, 2016 - The hatch has closed on Cygnus. The REBR-W is installed and ready to be deployed.

June 12, 2016 - A new cooperation agreement between NASA and the United Arab Emirates Space Agency includes the future use of aircraft in joint missions.

June 9, 2016 - NASA issued a media advisory that the undock of the Cygnus spacecraft on June 20 will be broadcast. [Media Advisory]

June 9, 2016 - Mohammad Odeh and Peter Jenniskens present results from the WT1190F reentry observation campaign at the Meteoroids 2016 meeting at ESTEC.

June 8, 2016 - Curtin University will contribute a high sampling-rate photometer to the airborne mission. The Australian Desert Fireball Network will attempt to image the Cygnus OA6 when it travels over Australia.

Schematic viewing geometry of entry from aircraft

June 4, 2016 - An aircraft flight path was designed around the latest nominal trajectory update. To keep the aircaft within ETOPS limits from the nearest airfield in the Chatham Islands, we will observe the reentry from a position uprange, at about the 82-km altitude point. This will provide a prime view of the 85-78 km altitude range where first breakup events are expected. During the main breakup, the spacecraft will move away from us.

June 3, 2016 - Jim Albers and Peter Jenniskens meet with the Orbital ATK navigators for mission planning.

May 18, 2016 - Bill Ailor informed us that Aerospace funding for the US science teams was approved now also. Orbital ATK confirms re-entry date is still set at June 22.

May 18, 2016 - Ron Dantowitz reports that students of Dexter Southfield are being engaged in improving the instrumental setups.

May 11, 2016 - NASA Ames project manager Jay Grinstead reports that NASA Ames has countersigned the NASA-FAA Agreement for the Cygnus reentry observing campaign.

May 3, 2016 - Orbital ATK Inc. will provide updates on the planned re-entry to our airborne mission navigator Jim Albers.

April 28, 2016 - Jack Bacon of NASA's Orbital Debris Office reports that the re-entry delay to June 22nd means that now a night-time re-entry has become possible. An early view of the entry conditions suggests entry times around 8:40 or 10:10 a.m. UT (8:40 pm or 10:10 pm local time in New Zealand in the evening of June 22).

April 28, 2016 - The long delay of the re-entry date means the Gulfstream G650 out of Wellington is no longer available. As an alternative, we are offered use of the Bombardier Global Express out of Sydney.

April 27, 2016 - It was confirmed today that traffic on the ISS will delay the undock of Cygnus OA6 until June 14, with a re-entry projected at of just before June 22. patch

April 23, 2016 - The Cygnus "S.S. Rick Husband" Reentry Observation Campaign patch design follows that for the ATV-5 Reentry Observing Campaign, but features REBR-W and the Cygnus spacecraft.

April 20, 2016 - Scientists participating in the reentry observing campaign met with Michael Weaver, the REBR-Wireless project lead, and Bill Ailor at the Aeorspace Corporation in El Segundo, CA. Mission objectives and logistical matters were discussed. The observing campaign will put in context the published data from past REBR-W missions and provide a new dataset for a controlled shallow re-entry.

April 11, 2016 - Partial support for the science team is in hand. Scientists will meet on April 20 for mission planning.

April 4, 2016 - The undock date was re-scheduled to May 20. The re-entry date is now anticipated the week after that. Aircraft operators confirm that the aircraft will be available at that time. The deployment will be from Wellington, New Zealand.

Cygnus spacecraft on approach to the ISS. Photo courtesy of astronaut Time Peake.

March 23, 2016 - Cygnus AO6 launched to the ISS today via an Atlas V rocket. The launch was successful, despite the Atlas V first stage shutting down a little early. Docking will commence in a few days. Onboard is a meteor camera. The flight also contains a Spacecraft Fire Safety Demonstration project (SAFFIRE), which will be executed after undock. Cygnus is expect to be in orbit about 8 days after unberth until reentry, to bring the SAFFIRE data down to the ground.

March 22, 2016 - Funding for the aircraft deployment has been allocated. Still working to secure support for the science team.

March 10, 2016 - With a re-entry scheduled for May 4, the lead time is too short for a deployment of NASA's DC-8 Airborne Laboratory. Instead, a shallow re-entry observing campaign is proposed that would be similar in approach to the WT1190F reentry campaign, by deploying a range of optical cameras onboard a Gulfstream G650. Deployment will be from New Zealand. The WT1190F mission demonstrated capability for documenting the fragmentation processes by imaging and spectrographic cameras, even in daytime conditions.

patch February 8, 2016 - The Re-Entry Breakup Recorder (REBR) send to the International Space Station for the ATV-5 reentry observing campaign will now be installed for operation during the upcoming Cygnus OA6 re-entry. Cygnus is operated by Orbital ATK. Launch will be on March 23, undock is scheduled for May 2. As in the case of ATV-5, the re-entry will be relatively shallow with a 64-km altitude perigee, but starting from a higher apogee.

SETI Institute logo Curator: Peter Jenniskens
Responsible NASA Official: Jay H. Grinstead

Last update: [see latest blog entry]

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