Mars picture and the rover Curiosity is courtesy of NASA.

Time-Of-Flight 3D camera for space robotics

On behalf of the European Space Agency (ESA), scientists from SINTEF, Thales Alenia Space and Terma are investigating the potential of 3D camera technologies to replace the current generation of cameras used by spacecraft and space rovers, opening up new opportunities in solving future space missions.

French-Italian Thales Alenia Space has significant experience with space missions, and has mapped the requirements for the new 3D camera. Based on these requirements, SINTEF has evaluated a wide range of Time-Of-Flight technologies, to determine their relative strengths and weaknesses in such a setting. This work has been based on SINTEF’s long-time experience in working with 3D sensors for the industry. The Danish company Terma, specialist in space sensor manufacturing, will build the first bread-board prototype around the most promising technologies, which then will be tested and evaluated by ESA and all three companies.

Some advantages of Time-Of-Flight technologies for space usage includes high speed imaging (entire scene illuminated in one flash) and by utilizing a laser as light source the range can be very long, even up to kilometres. Several different space missions has been evaluated:
  • Entry descent and landing Mars and Moon
  • Rendezvous & Docking
  • Mars and Lunar Rovering
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