WATERLOO – After landing in a sand-filled crater on Mars, NASA InSight landers sent photos back to earth using technology designed and produced by Teledyne Dalsa.
The Waterloo-based company is a world leader in digital and semiconductor imaging, and the InSight lander marks the fifth time NASA has used its technology on the Mars mission.
"This is a very good achievement for us," said Robert Groulx, product manager for image sensors. "Everyone here is happy about that."
Teledyne Dalsa makes what is called a CCD sensor at its factory in Bromont, Que. About 30 people working on the Mars project gathered in the company's canteen there Monday afternoon to watch InSight land on the Red Planet. Shortly after landing on the so-called Elysium Planitia, or the equatorial plain, it sent images back to earth from two cameras.
While CCD image sensors are as large as postage stamps, they play a large role in the $ 850 million mission to Mars.
One camera is installed near the bottom of the InSight landing. Scientists will use images from the camera to see instruments that will dig into the planet to measure internal temperature, and record movements in the planet's crust.
The data will help scientists learn about the internal structure of Mars. Insight stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodies and Heat Transport.
A second camera mounted on a pole will take 120 degrees of panoramic surface images around the InSight landing. The pictures from the camera will help ground crews decide where to place the instruments that will collect data.
The device converts light into electrical signals that travel 54.6 million kilometers back to Earth where the signal is converted into digital images. It only has one megapixel because it is harder to send larger high-resolution files back to earth.
CCDs are short for combined devices. This is a powerful type of semiconductor used for image processing. This is not new technology, but can withstand strong vibrations from takeoff, and intense solar radiation. Sensors also have to work in temperatures that average around -60 C on the Mars equator during the winter.
"This is old technology, but the technology is very good," Groulx said.
NASA used the Teledyne Dalsa sensor on a Mars mission in 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012 and for now, which has red, green and blue filters. In the two previous missions, the sensor worked for 10 years.
"So they are very happy with the quality of the image sensor," Groulx said. "That's why they decided to use our sensors again for the InSight mission."
Consumer electronics such as smartphones and DSLR cameras also have image processing sensors. The consumer version is called CMOS, short for complementary metal oxide semiconductors, which also convert light into electrical signals that create digital images. The CMOS sensor is not strong enough to travel space.