The Planetary Environments Group pioneered the use of miniature CMOS video cameras in space with the launch of such a camera on-board the 1998 Thai-Paht micro-satellite mission. This mission paved the way for the use of such cameras for remote-inspection nano-satellites - a concept which the group has been developing since 1995 - culminating in the launch of the first such mission, SNAP-1, on 28 June 2000.

One of the principal objectives of the SNAP-1 mission was to demonstrate the ability of nano-satellites to act as automatic “eyes-in-the-sky” to allow astronauts to examine the outside of their space vehicles for damage, etc. The group is currently working on the next generation of CMOS camera based systems for attitude sensing, visual inspection, optical navigation and multi-camera/multi-spectral Earth observation.

The first of these instruments is an eight-channel radiometric imaging sensor, which has been developed as part of the NigeriaSat programme. This is aimed at such applications as ocean colour sensing, land use monitoring and mineral prospecting. Work is also in progress on a single-camera passive optical navigation/rendezvous system designed for a remote inspector satellite.

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