ESA GNC Conference Papers Repository

ASTROtir – A multi-purpose thermal infrared camera
Simon Chelkowski, Thomas Hennig, Thomas Schneider, Fabian Lami, Steffen Kirschstein, Steffen Rienecker
Presented at:
Sopot 2023
Full paper:

Jena-Optronik GmbH (JOP) has a strong heritage in the development of cameras for numerous space-based applications. So far, our focus has been on cameras working in the visible & near-infrared range of the spectrum. The main application case for these cameras is the use as autonomous star trackers being part of a satellite’s Guidance, Navigation & Control System. JOP has been very successful with these cameras –for a long time and is the world market leader in providing such sensors to satellite prime manufactures. Investigating the possible applications of cameras in space, one realizes that thermal or long wave infrared (IR) cameras are necessary for specific applications. One major field for several of such applications is the field of Space Situational Awareness (SSA). SSA has been attracting more and more attention over the past years especially for space objects, natural debris as well as man-made threats & disturbances such as military conflicts. Two further application fields for IR cameras are formation flying and docking. The first rendezvous and docking with a non-cooperative satellite (Intelsat 901) in geostationary orbit by Northrop Grummans MEV-1 was a key milestone for docking capabilities. Additionally, the recent years have shown that a transition from few big and multi-purpose satellites towards small, medium or even large constellations consisting of numerous small satellites is taking place. Especially for constellations, a key aspect is formation flying which usually requires relative navigation. The relative angles between the satellites can be easily provided by IR cameras as they detect the satellites reliably and independently of local lighting conditions due to their elevated temperature against the cold space background. Based on the very successful ASTRO product range of space proven cameras, ASTROtir (tir = thermal infra-red) will extend JOPs product capabilities into the thermal / long wave infrared (LWIR) wavelength range to cover all of the applications cases listed above. Following a successful ESA co-funded first evaluation, the ASTROtir development project has been kicked-off in December 2022 in cooperation with ESA. Target of this project is to demonstrate TRL8 of ASTROtir. Future applications are formation flying (relative navigation), approach and docking with a non-cooperative space object as well as detailed image generation of near satellite objects. Currently, no European solution for an IR camera covering the application cases and mission scenarios is available as off-the-shelf product, which further increases ASTROtir’s already promising market potential. As the market demand, especially in the field of SSA, is rising further in the coming years, its development will be closely followed and its market entry is eagerly awaited. Jena-Optronik will present the preliminary design and development status of ASTROtir. As ASTROtir aims primarily at applications on small and medium satellites, its target mass budget of 300g is a driving requirement. Following our intermediate / preliminary design review scheduled for August 2023, Jena-Optronik aims at presenting first results from ASTROtir’s system analyses as well as the related plans for the EM and EQM campaigns.