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    Cameras on Mars: Development of new imaging systems at ETU “LETI”

    Sergei Korolev, a lead Soviet spacecraft engineer, said that a rocket launched into space without radio and television equipment is like a stone launched from a medieval sling. Space imaging begins its history with the Yenisei system, developed at the All-Union Television Scientific Research Institute and installed on the Luna-3 spacecraft that made the first image of the far side of the moon on October 4, 1959.

    The year 2019 marked the 60th anniversary of space television. Over the years, the quality of images produced by space imaging systems has increased dramatically.

    Currently, imaging is used as widely as possible in space technology. In crewed spaceflight, without it, it is impossible to control docking, the external and internal view of spacecraft, the control of stage separation, etc. In uncrewed spaceflight, vision systems are used in lunar and Martian rovers, spacecraft celestial navigation systems, remote sensing systems for Earth, the Moon, Mars, and other planets, asteroids, and comets.

    Since 2011, the employees of the Department of Television and Video Engineering of ETU “LETI” have been participating in the development of space imaging systems as part of the research carried out in the Television Scientific Research Institute.

    “Development of space imaging equipment requires developers to take into account a large number of factors in outer space, which significantly limits the degree of freedom in the choice of technical solutions,” Andrey Mantsvetov, Professor of the Department of Television and Video Engineering, says.

    Solar radiation leads to malfunctions of the equipment, changes in modes of microcircuits, image artifacts, and the so-called thyristor effect, which can lead to failure of the equipment. To address the effects of radiation, special materials, circuits, protective walls, and glass, that provide triple redundancy of the important modules are used.

    There are strong restrictions on the materials used in the equipment operating in a vacuum. Thus, the use of plastics in space is almost impossible. Even if the equipment does not operate in a vacuum, weightlessness results in no convection, and it is necessary to minimize the power consumption of the devices and take special measures to dissipate the generated heat. A wide range of operating temperatures also requires different engineering solutions to ensure the functioning of equipment.

    To orientate the spacecraft in space, a camera for a small star tracker that provides an accurate orientation of 5 arcseconds at a mass less than 300 grams was developed with the participation of researchers of the Department of Television and Video Engineering of ETU “LETI.” By the end of 2017, the camera was among the top ten products of Rostec Holding.

    The employees of the department take part in the modernization of the imaging system of docking of Soyuz and Progress spacecraft and in the development of the docking system for the Science Power Module for ISS.

    “For a robot designed to operate on the outside of the ISS, a multi-camera vision system was developed, which includes a broadband radio channel to transmit compressed video data. The robot’s three arms are equipped with single-channel cameras, and the head is equipped with a four-channel camera, which has stereo imaging mode. The cameras have light sources to work on the night side of the Earth. All cameras are color, high definition. By design, cameras are protected from solar radiation and vacuum.”

    Andrey Mantsvetov, Department of Television and Video Engineering of ETU “LETI”

    An imaging system for the BION biological satellite is under development, which allows tracking the passengers of the spacecraft – mice. The system contains 25 cameras and 10 solid-state disks, on which the compressed video data is recorded.

    Employees of the Department of Television and Video Engineering of ETU “LETI” participate in the development of space imaging systems – Professor Andrey Mantsvetov, Associate Professor Pavel Baranov, Engineer Yevgenia Puchka. Naturally, only large teams can implement such large projects. More than half of the team engaged in the development of space imaging systems are graduates of the ETU “LETI” department. Heads of laboratories Oleg Simniskis, Alexey Morozov, Anastasia Chirkunova are the graduates of 2008 and 2013. Alexey Morozov also works as Associate Professor of the Department Branch of Video Information Systems, and Anastasia Chirkunova as Associate Professor of the Department of Television and Video Engineering. The leading developers Salikh Ibatullin (Department of Television and Video Engineering) and Sergey Lemeshev (Department of Radio Engineering Systems) are also graduates of the Faculty of Radio Engineering.

    Vladimir Zimin, Head of the Team, Oleg Semashkin, Chief Engineer, Alexander Tsytsulin, Deputy Director-General for Science (a member of the ETU “LETI” dissertation council), Alexander Umbitaliev, Director-General, control the processes.

    At present, the development of new projects for space imaging systems is beginning, including the imaging system of the Federation rocket project and other systems for crewed and uncrewed spaceflights.