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Airborne imaging and NIR spectroscopy of the ESA ATV spacecraft re-entry: instrument design and preliminary data description

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As part of the ESA/NASA Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) re-entry mission, we deployed a system of five cameras for visible and near-infrared (NIR) imaging and spectroscopic observation. These instruments were mounted in NASA's DC-8 Airborne Laboratory flying over the South Pacific Ocean. The ATV re-entry occurred on 29 September 2008, at ∼13:30 UT, and was recorded at a viewing distance of approximately 400 km from the site of its fragmentation in the mesosphere. Our instruments included intensified monochrome charge coupled device (CCD) cameras for narrow-field tracking and wide-field visible spectroscopy of the re-entry, and an InGaAs camera fitted with a grism was used for high-resolution NIR spectroscopy. Examples of the acquired data sets are discussed and include detection of visible atomic line emissions, NIR molecular band emissions and tracking of small fragments during the late stages of re-entry. The ATV re-entry campaign data are the first comprehensive airborne measurements of spacecraft break-up and provide important validation and constraint for state-of-the-art re-entry break-up models.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Center for Atmospheric and Space Sciences, Utah State University, LoganUT84322-4405, USA 2: SETI Institute, Carl Sagan Center, Mountain ViewCA94043, USA

Publication date: 2011-06-10

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