First pictures of the Sun’s atmosphere due in December of this year, thanks to an Israeli-engineered sensor affixed to the Parker Solar Probe. Israeli integrated circuit manufacturer TowerJazz produces this one-of-a-kind sensor.
Reporting of this story originally appeared in NoCamels.com
Scientists everywhere – and space enthusiasts, too – are waiting with bated breath for the first images from the NASA Parker Solar Probe spacecraft, now making history as it orbits the sun, due in early December. It is an Israeli-engineered sensor, which is capturing the high-resolution images of the sun’s atmosphere, including coronal mass ejections (CMEs) and solar wind.
“Parker Solar Probe is going to answer questions about solar physics that we’ve puzzled over for more than six decades,” Parker Solar Probe Project scientist Nicola Fox of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, said in a statement. “It’s a spacecraft loaded with technological breakthroughs that will solve many of the largest mysteries about our star, including finding out why the sun’s corona is so much hotter than its surface.”One of those technological breakthroughs onboard the probe is the space-qualified CMOS (complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor) sensor.
Israel’s integrated circuit manufacturer TowerJazz, based in Migdal Ha’emek, about an hour-and-a-half drive north of Tel Aviv, and SRI International, an independent nonprofit research center, collaborated on the high-performance CMOS imager for the US Naval Research Laboratory (NRL).
“TowerJazz has been working with SRI for several years to develop custom technology to support US government imaging applications,” Mike Scott, Director of TowerJazz USA Aerospace & Defense, said in a press statement last month.
TowerJazz’s CMOS image sensors and pixel technology are used in photography, industrial, medical, automotive and consumer applications, including high-end camera phones and 3D cameras. “We are very pleased to see our teamwork take flight in this exciting endeavor by NASA.”
This is the first time NASA has sent a spacecraft into the sun’s atmosphere. Headlines from around the world show that the global community is eagerly watching this engineering feat unfold.
The Parker Solar Probe’s mission is to understand the corona – the aura of plasma that surrounds the sun – in order to protect our technology-dependent society from space weather threats and solar wind. The data will also help in planning future space missions to the Moon or Mars.
For local engineers and the local space community, Israel’s sensor onboard the NASA spacecraft is an exciting moment. While outwardly a small contribution to the overall Solar Probe project, without the Israeli-engineered sensor there would be no images.
“Israel has amazing tech capabilities and people around the world appreciate the ingenuity of the Israeli space industry,” Kfir Damari, SpaceIL co-founder and engineer, tells NoCamels. Damari adds that the blue-and-white sensor joins a long list of Israeli components used in international space projects, giving the example of the 2016 Schiaparelli Mars Lander, which used a propulsion system developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems.
“I believe there will be more collaborations in the future,” says Damari.
Damari and co-founders/engineers Yariv Bash and Yonatan Winetraub, founded SpaceIL in 2011. They plan to launch an unmanned spacecraft to the Moon in early 2019.
“Space is something that is exciting. For SpaceIL, our mission is not just about landing a spacecraft on the Moon. For us, the bigger vision is getting people excited about space, science and technology, so I think any added project that gets people in the street talking about science and technology is amazing,” says Damari.
Moreover, those familiar with Israel’s expertise in sensor technology, aren’t surprised that an Israeli firm was part of the tech side of this latest NASA mission.
Israeli sensor technology, after all, is Grade A.
“It should not come as a surprise that Israel is providing key sensor technology for the NASA Solar Probe. Israel has world-leading vision and imaging technology, that power applications as diverse as autonomous driving (Mobileye), chip inspection (Orbotech), airborne agricultural imaging (Taranis), and next-generation spectrometry (Consumer Physics),” Jonathan Medved, serial entrepreneur and CEO of OurCrowd, tells NoCamels.