Advanced Imaging


Advanced Imaging Magazine

Updated: January 12th, 2011 10:01 AM CDT

Imaging in Space

Space shuttles and Mars missions require performance, sensitivity and ruggedness
Astronaut Garrett Reisman
Astronaut Garrett Reisman, STS-124 mission specialist, looks over a checklist while holding a camera in the Destiny laboratory of the International Space Station while Space Shuttle Discovery is docked with the station. The astronaut is holding a Kodak DCS camera.
The Daily weather data for Mars is collected by the orbiter using the Mars Color Imager
The Daily weather data for Mars is collected by the orbiter using the Mars Color Imager (MARCI). The data includes phenomena like dust devils, as seen in this image taken earlier this year.
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
© NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) Context Camera (CTX) is designed to obtain grayscale (black & white) images of Mars at 6 meters per pixel scale over a swath 30 kilometers wide.
terra sirenum crater on Mars
© NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems
The largest numbers of gullies on Mars are on the walls of southern hemisphere craters. During southern winter, many of the gullied walls are in shadow. It has been known for many years from Mars Global Surveyor Mars Orbiter Camera images that frost forms on these shadowed slopes and that differences in the amount or nature of the frost deposits highlight the gully floors and deposits. CTX acquired this image of the terra sirenum crater where gullies were known to display frost during winter.
50-foot robotic arm
© Adimec
An Adimec camera and Kodak sensors are key components of the Orbiter Boom Sensor System (OBSS), an in-flight imaging system attached to the end of a 50-foot robotic arm that is used by shuttle astronauts to scan the underside of the orbiter for possible damage before landing. 

By Barry Hochfelder

Space may be the final frontier, but electronic imaging is making sure that we learn more about it. For example, science has long wondered whether there is water on Mars. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was launched in 2005 to map the planet and search for signs of water. It's scanning the planet's surface analyzing minerals, searching for subsurface water, observing dust and water patterns in the atmosphere and monitoring daily weather.

Daily weather data for Mars is collected by the orbiter using the Mars Color Imager (MARCI), a camera that monitors the surface and atmosphere of the planet across seven different wavelengths. This camera is based on the Kodak KAI-1001 Image Sensor, a one-megapixel device that provides both high sensitivity and high dynamic range.

MARCI is designed to acquire daily global images of Mars for at least one Martian year (687 Earth days) at 5 visible wavelengths and 2 ultraviolet wavelengths. MARCI images will be used to document the weather on Mars by observing the comings and goings of dust storms, polar frost, and clouds of water vapor, water ice, and carbon dioxide crystals. MARCI's ultraviolet observations will map the distribution of water vapor and ozone in the atmosphere. Soon, this camera will have captured a full Martian-year's worth of pictures—giving scientists information on the spring, summer, fall and winter of the planet. You can view them on the Internet at (

On each orbit that MRO makes around Mars, MARCI simultaneously acquires seven pictures at each of the seven wavelengths. Over the course of a day, MRO makes 12 to nearly 13 orbits around Mars. The 12 times 7 pictures per day (84 images) provide a daily record of meteorological events that have occurred on the planet. By building up these images every day for an entire Martian year, MARCI will provide a record that spans through winter, spring, summer, and autumn in both Martian hemispheres.

Looking straight down (nadir orientation) at Mars, MARCI images are designed to have spatial resolutions in the 1 to 10 kilometers per pixel range. The system consists of two separate sets of lenses and detectors—one for the visible light images, and one for the ultraviolet images. Both systems have a 180° field of view lens, which permits all of Mars to be in view, even when MRO rolls up to 20° off nadir for imaging specific targets with its other instruments. Each MARCI image is about 1000 pixels wide and can be many thousands of pixels long, depending on the objective of the image.

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