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Research funding to enable a future infrared camera to support humans in space

White ice on red surface of Mars

OU researchers have been awarded £200,000 from the UK Space Agency (UKSA) to test detectors for a new infrared camera to be used to support future human space explorers.

Led by Dr Manish Patel, Senior Lecturer in the OU’s Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics, the one-year Novel infrared technology for exploring Mars and advance reconnaissance for exploration science (NITEMARES) project is one of eight to receive funding from UKSA to celebrate innovations in space exploration and promote career opportunities in the sector.

This project will allow the use of UK-manufactured infrared detectors in future space instruments – something that has not been possible so far. It will enable a new type of camera to eventually be flown to explore the solar system, one that can take images across many different wavelengths of light in one instrument.

The camera will be used initially to explore Mars, to identify ice deposits that could be used as a resource by future human explorers. The OU is collaborating with Teledyne e2v (a UK-based company), who will supply the detectors to be tested in the laboratory in a customised test facility, and then exposed to levels of radiation experienced by spacecraft in space. The team will then be able to determine how suitable these detectors will be for use in space, how resilient they are to the harsh radiation conditions.

Dr Patel said:

“This project is a major step towards a new type of camera to take images of Mars at infrared wavelengths. The UK Space Agency has recognised the huge potential of this detector technology for shining a new light in space exploration and identifying ice to be used as a resource by future human explorers on Mars.”

Other OU team members are Konstantin Stefanov, Martyna Hodges, Dr Martin Prest and Dr James Ivory.

The OU also received £200,000 in this funding round for the project Microwave heating and oxygen extraction experiment, which investigates the potential of microwave heating to facilitate building on the Moon.

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