01 Oct

Demise Observation Capsule (DOC) for re-entry science and safety

  • Sensing and Control Systems

A new perspective on re-entry 

S[&]T's Demise Observation Capsule (DOC) measures re-entry processes, in order to better understand rocket upper-stage trajectory, footprint and disintegration upon break-up in the Earth's atmosphere. S[&]T acts as prime for this project, and leads a consortium of 7 international partners contributing to DOC. The first qualification flight for DOC is expected in 2018. 

Why we need it

Rocket science is not easy, and every mission needs a launch. Launchers are typically the bottleneck in spaceflight, and by better understanding the footprint of launch and re-entry, we can ensure public safety while increasing regulatory compliance and even reducing the impact footprint of launch. By validating re-entry models, and better understanding the physics of re-entry, we can 'design for demise', ensuring that what we send up is safe if it must come down. DOC brings rocketry full-circle, and ensures that we are aware of all aspects of designing a mission from start to finish.

About DOC

The Demise Observation Capsule (DOC) is developed and qualified for the European Space Agency (ESA). With the DOC, the operator can collect important information about the re-entry processes of launcher stages. It works as a data-recorder that will collect important flight and environmental data that is needed to gain a better understanding in the physics and engineering of the re-entry process. Until this date, the re-entry process is still not completely known, which makes it difficult to engineer launcher stages that completely disintegrate during their re-entry. The analysis of the re-entry data about objects re-entering the atmosphere will help in accurately predicting break-up altitudes, debris trajectories and ground impact footprint. These analyses are therefore critical not only to mission success, but more importantly for improving public safety aspects of such re-entry scenarios.

How it works

The Demise Observation capsule is a small capsule launched with other missions on either Vega or Ariane rockets as an attachment to the upper-stage. As the mission payload/s are released, DOC remains with the rocket stage and separates as re-entry begins. DOC then records images of the upper-stage of the rocket, measures the break-up evolution, and tracks key disintegration events upon descent. After tumbling and making observations, DOC stabilises into a final descent, and has a few minutes to process and send data back to the European Space Agency team via satellite relay to a ground station. 

Capsule details and method of data collection:

The DOC is engineered as a completely autonomous space vehicle. It can be connected to the same launcher stage it will monitor and observe during the re-entry. Once in orbit, the DOC will wake-up and will perform its measurements and observations. It will remain connected to the launcher stage during the first part of the re-entry, but it will decide to disconnect from launcher when the host starts to disintegrate. In a fall towards the earth, it will continue making measurements and at the same time relay its measurement data to ground. The DOC is constructed such that it will be able to withstand the hostile conditions of re-entry and close-by disintegration of the launcher.

Capsule capabilities

  • Independent re-entry capsule qualified to 'rideshare' with no impact on launcher payloads or operation
  • Robust, modular design for the 3rd / 4th stages of a multitude of launch vehicles
  • Miniaturised sensors and electronics in a versatile and extendable sensor suite
  • Full nano-satellite capabilities
  • Observation cameras on host vehicle and capsule
  • Onboard software for autonomous mission performance and in-flight data transfer
  • Safe and controlled stage separation after passivation
  • ITAR-free equipment

DOC Applications

The DOC technology and product is able to be applied to a broad range of other applications and customer needs. The following are just a few examples:

  • A space and re-entry observation platform
  • Re-entry Testbed
  • Planetary re-entry science probe
  • Material/Equipment and Code Qualification
  • Cube-sat demonstration and recovery
  • Clean space support
  • Re-entry trajectory analysis
  • Training for recovery missions
  • Sample return missions

S[&]T Partnerships:

In order to accomplish this challenging mission and provide the DOC, S[&]T leads a European consortium of industry partners in close cooperation with the European Space Agency. The European consortium consists of:

  • Netherlands: S[&]T, will lead the consortium
  • Denmark: GomSpace ApS
  • Czech Republic: Evolving Systems Consultancy
  • Italy: CIRA S.C.p.A
  • Switzerland: Ædel Aerospace
  • Romania: National Institute for Aerospatial Research and Development “Elie Carafoli” (INCAS)
  • Italy: ELV S.p.A 

For any questions on the Demise Observation Capsule, please contact Trevor Watts