Ultraviolet Spacecraft Camera

Space Dynamics Laboratory
Utah State University
North Logan, UT
Ultraviolet Spacecraft Camera

Utah State University’s Space Dynamics Laboratory (SDL) is building two key flight camera systems for a NASA spacecraft that will explore the layer of the atmosphere where Earth meets space. The two Far Ultraviolet, or FUV, cameras will serve as the primary science instruments for the Carruthers Geocorona Observatory.

The Carruthers Geocorona Observatory will survey the exosphere — the outermost layer of Earth’s atmosphere — from Lagrange Point 1, commonly referred to as L1. L1, about 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, is a point in space where the gravitational pull of Earth and the Sun is equal and opposite, which means the Carruthers Geocorona Observatory will remain in a stable orbital position while it conducts its science mission.

SDL is also building two filter wheels for the mission, one for each camera. The filter wheels enable the cameras to examine different frequency bands of FUV light, each of which can reveal nuances of the atmosphere’s behavior.

The exosphere extends from an altitude of about 500 kilometers above Earth’s surface to the edge of space, which is about 10,000 kilometers above Earth’s surface. The exosphere is composed mainly of hydrogen and helium gas along with traces of other elements like oxygen and nitrogen. It is also the region where many spacecraft orbit Earth, and it plays a critical role in protecting the planet from solar wind and other harmful radiation from space.

The air is extremely thin in the exosphere, and the gas molecules are widely spaced apart. At this altitude, Earth’s gravity is very weak, and the molecules are no longer held in place by it. Additionally, elements in the exosphere are broken down by sunlight. Because of these conditions, the atoms can escape into space, and the exosphere gradually blends into the cold vacuum of space. The cameras that SDL is building for the Carruthers mission will focus on observing this natural process of atmospheric escape.

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