Editorial Feature

Where Can Image Sensors Be Found in Space Technologies?

An image sensor is a device that converts light into electrical signals that can be processed into digital images. These sensors are crucial to space exploration because they help scientists and engineers study planets, stars, and other celestial objects.

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Image sensors, also known as camera sensors, capture images in space. The cameras use sensors that convert light into digital signals that are later processed into images.

Image Sensors in Space

Image sensors in space work on the same principles as image sensors used in digital cameras and smartphones. The sensors convert light into electrical signals that can be processed into digital images. However, image sensors used in space must be designed to withstand the harsh radiation and temperature conditions present in space.

Image sensors work by detecting photons of light that enter the sensor through a lens. The photons strike a semiconductor material, which produces electrons.

The electrons produced by the semiconductor material are collected in individual pixels on the image sensor. Each pixel collects electrons proportional to the amount of light that enters the sensor.

The electrons collected by each pixel are then converted into a digital signal. This signal is then processed by the spacecraft's onboard computer to create a digital image.

Advancements in Image Sensors for Space Technologies

There have been significant advancements in image sensing in recent years, with particular emphasis on improving the resolution, sensitivity, and durability of image sensors. These efforts have produced new kinds of image sensors that are highly effective for space applications.

Backside-illuminated sensors are image sensors with their light-sensitive layer on the backside of the sensor. These sensors are more sensitive to light and have better low-light performance than traditional image sensors.

Time-delayed integration sensors are image sensors that use a technique called time-delayed integration to capture images.

Time-delayed integration involves integrating the signal from the sensor over a longer period than traditional sensors. This technique results in higher sensitivity and lower noise levels.

Radiation-hardened sensors are image sensors designed to withstand the harsh radiation environment in space. The sensors are built with materials resistant to radiation and have shielding to protect them from radiation.

These types of sensors are becoming increasingly popular in space applications because they can capture high-quality images even in challenging lighting conditions, withstand the radiation environment, and continue functioning correctly.

Applications of Image Sensors in Space

The applications of image sensors in space are vast and diverse, ranging from earth observation to planetary observation and astronomy.

Earth observation is the study of the planet's physical, chemical, and biological characteristics from space. Image sensors play a vital role in this process.

Satellites equipped with image sensors can capture images of the earth's surface, oceans, and atmosphere. The images help scientists and researchers monitor the environment, track natural disasters, and study climate change.

Planetary exploration involves the study of planets and other celestial objects in our solar system. Image sensors are used in spacecraft that are sent to study planets such as Mars, Venus, and Jupiter.

The sensors capture images of the planet's surface, atmosphere, and other features. The images help scientists understand the geology, weather, and other characteristics of the planet.

Astronomy is the study of the universe and its celestial objects. Image sensors are used in telescopes and observatories to capture images of stars, galaxies, and other celestial objects. The images help astronomers understand the properties and behavior of these objects.

The Curiosity Rover is a NASA spacecraft sent to Mars in 2012. The rover is equipped with a Mast Camera (MastCam) that uses two 2-megapixel color sensors. The MastCam has been instrumental in capturing high-resolution images of the Martian landscape and helping scientists study the geology and environmental conditions on Mars.

The Landsat program is a joint venture between NASA and the United States Geological Survey (USGS). The program has been operating for over 40 years and has been instrumental in studying the earth's environment.

The Landsat satellites are equipped with image sensors that capture images of the earth's surface, oceans, and atmosphere. The photos help scientists monitor the environment, track natural disasters, and study climate change.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a space observatory that was launched in 1990. The telescope is equipped with several image sensors that capture images of the universe. The images captured by the Hubble Space Telescope have been instrumental in advancing our understanding of the universe.

Conclusion

Image sensors have become a crucial component in various space missions. They are used for earth observation, planetary exploration, and astronomy.

The latest advancements in image sensors for space have focused on improving the resolution, sensitivity, and durability of image sensors.

Backside-illuminated sensors, time-delayed integration sensors, and radiation-hardened sensors are some of the latest advancements in image sensors for space.

As technology continues to advance, image sensors will become even more critical in advancing our understanding of the universe.

Continue reading: Why Sensors are Vital for Space Exploration

References and Further Reading

Image Sensors Enhance Camera Technologies. (2010). NASA Spinoff. Available at: https://spinoff.nasa.gov/Spinoff2010/cg_3.html

Innocent, M., Cools, T. et al. (2017). HAS3: A radiation tolerant CMOS image sensor for space applications. ON Semiconductor. Available at: https://www.imagesensors.org/Past%20Workshops/2017%20Workshop/2017%20Papers/P12_innocent_2.pdf

Jerram, P., & Stefanov, K. (2020). 9 - CMOS and CCD image sensors for space applications. High Performance Silicon Imaging (Second Edition), pp. 255-287. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-08-102434-8.00009-X

Kim, W.-T., Park, C., Lee, H., Lee, I., & Lee, B.-G. (2019). A High Full Well Capacity CMOS Image Sensor for Space Applications. Sensors. Available at: doi.org/10.3390/s19071505

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Shaheer Rehan

Written by

Shaheer Rehan

Shaheer is a graduate of Aerospace Engineering from the Institute of Space Technology, Islamabad. He has carried out research on a wide range of subjects including Aerospace Instruments and Sensors, Computational Dynamics, Aerospace Structures and Materials, Optimization Techniques, Robotics, and Clean Energy. He has been working as a freelance consultant in Aerospace Engineering for the past year. Technical Writing has always been a strong suit of Shaheer's. He has excelled at whatever he has attempted, from winning accolades on the international stage in match competitions to winning local writing competitions. Shaheer loves cars. From following Formula 1 and reading up on automotive journalism to racing in go-karts himself, his life revolves around cars. He is passionate about his sports and makes sure to always spare time for them. Squash, football, cricket, tennis, and racing are the hobbies he loves to spend his time in.

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