There are disposable cameras, and there are cameras that record their very own destruction for the world to see. Such is the European Space Agency’s aptly named “Break Up Camera” which is set to give scientists an insider’s view into what it’s like to disintegrate on reentry into Earth’s atmosphere.
The spectacle is set to take place in approximately 6 months, when the ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle 5 (ATV-5 for short) – currently docked with the International Space Station some 205 miles overhead – disengages and begins its final fiery descent.
While there have been previous observations of the disintegration of satellites and space station supply vehicles during atmospheric reentry, this will mark the most comprehensive recording of the event by an on-board camera.
The infrared Break Up Camera will reportedly work in a similar fashion to aircraft black boxes, with the notable exception that images will be transmitted to Earth via satellite, by way of a Reentry SatCom capsule fitted with an antennae. According to the ESA, the camera will document the final 20 seconds leading up to its complete immolation
In addition to withstanding the expected temperatures of 2700 Fahrenheit, the ceramic-encased Reentry SatCom will have to survive a “blowtorch-like plasma” of gases that always destroy objects reentering the atmosphere.