Powering Up for Pluto: NASA Gets Ready for Pluto's Close up!


NASA’s new space exploration program, New Horizon’s is aptly named. Not only is it pushing the boundaries of space exploration by venturing as far out as Pluto, it is also approaching new horizons in technology by adopting several new circuits and electronic systems designed to make the trip out to Pluto a fruitful one.

Reliability is the name of the game when designing space exploration components and this is especially true of the data recording and computing components like electromechanical latching relays, power supplies, and RTSX-SU field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs). A failure in any of those systems could mean the loss of vital data collected by NASA’s New Horizon’s spacecraft.

Sending a probe into that far into space is no small feat, it requires each electronic component to work at peak performance for long extended periods of time under harsh conditions. One of the most fundamental components that must remain in perfect condition for optimal data collection is the FPGAs.

FPGAs help control and automate communication systems, avionics, and other payload systems that are essential for the spacecraft’s operation. But their primary purpose is for managing the spacecraft’s imaging camera and light measurement capabilities. This will enable the New Horizon’s spacecraft to take high-resolution images of Pluto and conduct other readings like spectrometry calculations.

Naturally, before FPGAs can be placed into a functioning spacecraft and sent to Pluto, they are rigorously tested and hardened against radiation contamination and damage and are designed specifically to survive deep space and harsh conditions.

This requires highly precise light measurement, optical testing instruments capable of providing highly accurate and reliable readings to ensure that the systems are functioning at full capacity. Instrument Systems LumiCam 1300 Advanced and Konica Minolta Sensing’s CA-2500 2D Color Analyzer employ high-resolution CCD sensors that provide highly accurate luminance and chromaticity distributions of screens or control panels within seconds. These systems are used in the areas of research, development, quality assurance, and production and in different industries including, aerospace, automotive, and consumer electronics.

Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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