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Official NASA Communication 95-195

Official NASA Communication 95-195

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Published by: NASAdocuments on Oct 06, 2007
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09/16/2014

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Douglas IsbellHeadquarters, Washington, DC October 27, 1995(Phone: 202/358-1753)Mary Beth MurrillJet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA(Phone: 818/354-5011)RELEASE: 95-195REVOLUTIONARY NEW MINIATURE SENSOR SYSTEM DEVELOPEDA team led by NASA researchers has devised aminiaturized sensor system that could be a catalyst for arevolutionary new generation of small, low-cost spacecraftto explore the solar system. The Planetary Integrated Camera-Spectrometer, orPICS, is expected eventually to replace whole suites of individual spacecraft instruments that, on some NASAmissions, can weigh more than 400 pounds and take up asmuch room as a four-drawer filing cabinet. Literallysmaller than a breadbox, PICS combines some of the mostproductive and often-used space sensors into an 11-poundpackage.Its development represents a crucial step towardenabling future NASA missions that will have to use smallerlaunch vehicles and, hence, smaller spacecraft to travel todistant planets and other bodies in the solar system.In addition to being much smaller, the PICS systemoffers high performance and improved instrument sensitivityover previous spacecraft instruments of the same type atlower overall cost, according to PICS Program Manager GreggVane of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena,CA. "Many people assume that low cost implies lowcapability," he said, "but PICS proves you can have veryhigh capability at low cost."The PICS prototype, developed through acollaboration between researchers at JPL, industry,universities and the U.S. Geological Survey, recently
 
completed successful science and engineering tests thatqualify the instrument system for development as flighthardware. PICS is a candidate for flight on several futureplanetary spacecraft missions.-more-- 2 -PICS is one of the first successful efforts tosqueeze down multiple instrument optics, functions andelectronics into a small, efficient unit that requiresdramatically less power and mass than was previouslyachieved. It brings together in one integrated sensorsystem an ultraviolet imaging spectrometer, an infraredimaging spectrometer and two visible-lightcameras -- instruments that can characterize the chemicalmakeup, thermal properties, weather, atmospheric physicsand geophysics of bodies in the solar system.In the past, each of these spacecraft instrumentshas been built with its own separate, dedicated opticalsystem and electronics. In PICS, the instruments sharecommon telescope optics and extremely low-power,miniaturized instrument electronics. The result is onehighly-capable integrated instrument system that requiresless than five watts of power and is so small it can betucked under an arm. In comparison, similar instruments onthe Voyager spacecraft required 75 watts to operate fourlarge, entirely separate optical sensors, in addition to asophisticated pointable scan platform for aiming. "PICS will be able to achieve Voyager-class scienceat 10 cents on the dollar," said geologist Dr. LarrySoderblom of the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff, AZ."PICS will allow the science return we are accustomed tofrom our flagship missions like Voyager, but at the cost of a Discovery mission -- about 1/10th to 1/20th of the cost."PICS' initial development was triggered by achallenge from designers of NASA's Pluto Express mission,a proposed exploration of the only known planet in thesolar system that still awaits close reconnaissance by aspacecraft. The Pluto mission's requirements called for an
 
instrument incorporating two spectrometers -- one farultraviolet and one infrared -- in addition to two visible-light cameras, all weighing in at less than about 15pounds. Space instrument specialists say no previouslyexisting instrument met these constraints or even cameclose to matching those specifications.From the outset, the PICS team's approach was tosimplify the system and to minimize the mass and power of the instruments by maximizing the extent to whichcomponents can be shared. To further reduce mass and powerconsumption, PICS was designed to eliminate items such asfocusing mechanisms and filter wheels found on traditionalspacecraft imaging systems.Another critical innovation in the PICS design wasthe decision to construct all the optical and structuralcomponents of silicon carbide. The material is inexpensive,highly dimensionally stable, chemically non-reactive andpossesses excellent structural capabilities andmanufacturability, according to Vane.-more--3-Beyond the innovations in materials andminiaturization that made PICS work is a new managementapproach calling for concurrent engineering and scienceplanning."This contrasts with the more traditional approachtaken in past missions where the scientists defined therequirements and the engineers developed the design, oftenwith little interaction between the two groups," Vane said.Individual instruments were developed in this way,independent of each other and delivered to the spacecraftengineers as a fait accompli, he said. "We've reengineeredthe process of how to design a sensor system. Simplyworking together as an integrated team of scientists andengineers from the start has made the difference.""With PICS instrument technology now in hand, JPLmission planners can reasonably conceive of missions to anyplanet in the solar system with a Delta or similar launch

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