Engineering Vision Systems for Astronomical Deployment

This year will be significant for satellite operations, launches, and manufacturing. Demand for low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites will increase, and major stakeholders are projected to begin full deployment of Project Kuiper.

A recent paper from Northern Sky Research predicts that over 32,500 satellite missions will be ordered and deployed within the next ten years.

Many current and upcoming satellite projects require dedicated instruments that can endure long periods in space, where resistance to radiation is vital. Radiation-resistant optics are in massive demand, especially for earth and weather observation satellite programs.

Resolve Optics, a UK-based lens and optical design manufacturer, has provided lenses and optical systems in response to these demands over the last 20 years. The manufacturer is working on a wide-waveband lens for a multispectral microscope on a new solar-powered lunar rover expected to launch in 2024.

Design and Manufacture

Resolve Optics’ customers include international space agencies and commercial satellite and space vehicle manufacturers. They supply space-ready optics that monitor a specific area of a spacecraft’s exterior, surveilling it for indicators of damage caused by micrometeorites and space debris.

They also manufacture systems that help guide and dock payload craft-visiting platforms, such as those used on the International Space Station, and instruments to enhance remote sensing from satellites. Powerful and high-resolution lenses enable earth observation from space, providing vital data on weather and climate change patterns.

Developing Optical Components

Resolve Optics works with video-streaming specialists Sen to supply radiation hard lenses for satellite ultra-high definition (UHD) cameras. Such work has many environmental and mechanical challenges, such as radiation and extreme temperatures, which must be mitigated, as these issues can damage hardware.

For this application, commercially available lenses were not appropriate, as the glass would be affected by radiation browning, meaning image quality would decrease over the satellite's life.

Resolve Optics is an expert in custom-designing high-performance and low-mass lenses in radiation-resistant glass. Sen launched its first UHD video cameras in 2019 and, in the future, wishes to launch its satellite constellation with complete control over their live data stream.

Radiation-Resistant Materials

The optical glass used for space-borne applications must be chosen and manufactured carefully. When exposed to radiation, standard glass will turn brown within weeks. Resolve Optics uses cerium-doped non-browning glasses, which resist the browning effect for much longer than standard glass, lasting for years even when subjected to constant radiation.

A computer generated concept image of Intuitive Machines Noca-C lander for the IM-3 mission taking four NASA investigations to Reiner Gamma. Due for delivery and launch in 2024, Resolve Optics received an order to supply an optimized wide waveband lens for a multi-spectral microscope required for a Moon exploration mission.

A computer-generated concept image of the Intuitive Machines Noca-C lander for the IM-3 mission, which took four NASA investigations to Reiner Gamma. Due for delivery and launch in 2024, Resolve Optics received an order to supply an optimized wide waveband lens for a multi-spectral microscope required for a Moon exploration mission. Image Credit: Intuitive Machines

Resolve Optics is exploring options for new non-browning glasses that may offer more flexibility in optical design. It has developed lenses that produce clear and sharp images, free of the yellow tint indicative of radiation-tolerant lenses for use in color sensors, which can withstand long-term exposure to radiation up to one hundred million RAD and up to 85 °C without transmission loss.

However, increased radiation resistance is not a huge driving factor in space optics; the non-browning glasses used by Resolve Optics are all rated to 108 RAD, which is generally much higher than most other components in such systems. A camera sensor, for example, will stop working long before a lens does.

In-house vibration and shock testing of satellite optical modules, such as those pictured here, is one of the satellite optics development and design ac- tivities occurring at the Resolve Optics facility on a regular basis.

In-house vibration and shock testing of satellite optical modules, such as those pictured here, is one of the satellite optics development and design activities occurring at the Resolve Optics facility on a regular basis. Image Credit: Resolve Optics Ltd.

Surviving Launch

Producing small and light optical components is beneficial to minimize shock and vibration effects at launch. A lower mass means lower levels of vibration and shock.

Components in a system must also be retained as tightly and reliably as possible, staking retaining rings so they cannot come loose. However, if the required elements are heavier, bonding them into position may be preferential. Thus, the design of space-ready optics must consider the mass of the elements to determine what kind of retaining is required.

Effects of vibration and shock should be considered across the operating temperature range of the space launch to ensure optical components do not loosen due to cycles in temperature. To do this, Resolve Optics’ in-house testing equipment ensures lenses supplied for space-borne operations can meet vibration specifications.

An image of space ready lens designed for small satellites, developed by Resolve Optics.

This is an image of a space-ready lens designed for small satellites developed by Resolve Optics. Image Credit: Resolve Optics Ltd.

Changes in Demand

In the last year, Resolve Optics has seen a massive increase in demand for lenses that operate in specific bandwidths, creating a challenge to maintain maximum focus and transmission. Optical systems which can hold focus over a wide range of temperatures are also in high demand.

In the upcoming year, Resolve Optics expects to receive more requests for lenses and optical systems for orbiting space platforms, satellites in other orbits, and lunar rovers.

Acknowledgments

Produced from materials originally authored by Woodrow Bellamy III from Photonics and Imaging Technology.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Resolve Optics Ltd.

For more information on this source, please visit Resolve Optics Ltd.

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