ATV Break-Up Camera Misses Cargo Tug’s Final Fiery Plunge

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PARIS — Europe’s ATV-5 cargo transport that was sent on a destructive atmospheric-reentry orbit Feb. 15 was unable to send imagery from an infrared camera as the vehicle broke up over the South Pacific Ocean, the European Space Agency said Feb. 20.

The appropriately named Break-Up Camera was designed to take infrared images of ATV-5 as it disintegrated and send the data to a small terminal on a heatshield-protected portion of the ATV. The data would then be relayed to an Iridium mobile communications satellite in low Earth orbit.

ESA said what it calls a ‘back box for spacecraft’ did succeed in transmitting data showing that nearly 6,000 pictures were taken by the camera, in addition to information about the ATV’s rotation and temperature as it fell through the atmosphere.

But while the terminal succeeded in contacting the Iridium satellite and in sending a message, further messages that would have included the imagery were not received.

ESA said it is “investigating why further data packets didn’t make it through. This investigation may result in improvements, such as a backup data relay for future missions.”