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New Camera System For Lunar Lander Undergoes Testing

Aileen tests Heimdall camera

PSI’s Principal Investigator R. Aileen Yingst and Deputy Project Manager Matthew Clark use the Panoramic Imager to image a basalt rock from Iceland, a rock type that is analogous to some lunar volcanic rocks. Credit: Michael Ravine, Malin Space Science Systems.

A new camera system funded by NASA is complete and undergoing testing before it returns the first high-resolution video of a landing plume as it arrives on the Moon in late 2023 on the Xelene spacecraft, a commercial lander built by Masten Space Systems.

The Heimdall camera system project, headed by Planetary Science Institute Senior Scientist R. Aileen Yingst, consists of four color cameras and a DVR to store images until they can be uplinked to Earth. 

“The camera system will return the highest resolution images of the undisturbed lunar surface yet obtained, which is important for understanding regolith properties,” Yingst said. “We will be able to essentially video the landing in high resolution for the first time, so we can understand how the plume behaves – how far it spreads, how long particles are lofted. This information is crucial for the safety of future landings.

“Two cameras will be mounted on the spacecraft and two will be mounted on the end of the SAMPLR robotic arm. This is huge, because we've gone from being able to see a narrow window in front of us, to being able to move around and acquire images from multiple angles. It's the difference between getting two overlapping images of one area of ground, and being able to take a selfie,” Yingst said. “We have the descent imager mounted to see the plume, a ‘single’ imager mounted on the spacecraft body looking outward to the landscape, and then a panoramic and regolith imager on the arm, so we can take images of the landscape, and close-up images of the regolith.”

Heimdall includes a wide-angle descent imager positioned to capture near-video-speed images of the interactions of the exhaust plume with the lunar regolith, and a narrow-angle regolith imager positioned looking down, to image the surface at approximately 35 µm/pixel (less than the width of a human hair). Two wide-angle panoramic imagers will be positioned to look outward at the landscape.

Funding for the project is $2.3 million over two years. The camera is funded as part of NASA’s partnership with commercial entities to send scientifically robust payloads to the Moon. 

Heimdall is part of NASA’s Lunar Surface Instrument and Technology Payloads program.

Heimdall camera being tested

Heimdall's Panoramic Imager being tested in the clean room at Malin Space Science Systems. The Panoramic Imager will be mounted on the SAMPLR robotic arm, supplied by Maxar Space Robotics. Credit: Michael Ravine, Malin Space Science Systems.

April 10, 2022
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