We know the venerable black box can survive a harrowing plane crash, but what about falling from orbit?
Today we know it can, although the form factor and recovery method aren't quite the same as they would be for an airplane. The space-based version is called the re-entry break-up recorder (REBR), says the Aerospace Corporation of El Segundo, California, and its got a whole host of goodies on board that are meant to relay info to controllers on the ground about its status.
The one that fell from the sky this week was aboard a de-orbiting, uncrewed HTV2 cargo craft owned by the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA). As the HTV2 disintegrated the black box was jettisoned and fell to the earth somewhere near New Zealand.
This seemingly simple device was actually missing from modern day space programs, so the successful test, while basic, is an incredibly important one for space exploration.
Fun final fact about this black box is it's never meant to be discovered on the ground (although this one actually was!). Instead, the aerodynamic shape allows the box to right itself during descent, so that the antennas are constantly speaking to satellites in orbit. A heat shield protects the bottom until the inevitable end. [New Scientist]