Over the last five decades, Rockwell Collins has played a key role in enabling some giant steps in space exploration. From the equipment used to transmit video of Neil Armstrong’s famous moon landing to the lens assemblies used in the Mars Rovers, Rockwell Collins has been a proven and trusted source for out-of-this-world, high-integrity solutions. Most recently, Rockwell Collins provided the wide-angle lens on JunoCam as a part of NASA’s Jupiter mission, taking our technology 365 million miles from Earth to our solar system’s largest planet.
On July 4, 2016, five years after NASA launched Mission Juno to capture the first three-color images of Jupiter’s polar regions and investigate its ice-rock core, the Juno spacecraft arrived in Jupiter’s orbit.
As Linda Vancea, Rockwell Collins’ principal account manager for JunoCam explains, providing the optical assembly for JunoCam was an opportunity that presented itself because of our past successes and our history of quality.
“When Malin Space Science Systems approached us with the opportunity to work on Mission Juno, we were thrilled. Because of our history in space, and because of our recent successes with the lens assemblies on the Mars Rovers, they knew that Rockwell Collins would deliver a superior product, one that could survive the trials of being exposed to the elements of space.”
Located in Carlsbad, California, our Optronics team produces the highest integrity products, able to withstand the severe radiation of Jupiter while providing images with unprecedented clarity.
Continuing our legacy in space
But what does JunoCam — armed with Rockwell Collins technology — actually do?
With an extremely wide angle lens, JunoCam spins with the Juno spacecraft and uses a line of pixels to sweep across the surface of Jupiter. From this, high-resolution color images will be compiled of this gas giant’s transfixing cloud formations.
As John Fitzpatrick, principal program manager for the JunoCam project in Carlsbad, knows, designing assemblies equipped to handle the trials of space travel is an exciting, yet challenging opportunity.
“There are no do-overs when you are in space. No second chances, no opportunity to fix even the slightest malfunction.”
“There are no do-overs when you are in space. No second chances, no opportunity to fix even the slightest malfunction. That means that it is absolutely critical that we are able to anticipate anything and everything that could happen to JunoCam,” explained Fitzpatrick. “We have proven that our products are reliable, capable of withstanding the rigors of space, and able to provide images with incredible quality.”
For Charlie Micka, principal systems engineer in Carlsbad, even with the challenges and innovative manufacturing techniques required for such an optical assembly, being a part of this high-risk mission is one with high rewards.
“JunoCam has a special lens that actually has 14 distinct optical elements. This is our most complicated lens assembly to date, so when I saw that JunoCam had reached Jupiter, and I knew that the lens we spent a year building had survived the initial intense radiation, I was so proud,” said Micka. “To be a part of a team here at Rockwell Collins that contributed to such an incredible mission, I’m just ecstatic.”
Not just a pretty picture
Intended as a public outreach program, Mission Juno and JunoCam give experts and amateurs alike the opportunity to take part in this historic program. On NASA’s Mission Juno website, users can learn about Jupiter, vote on what images JunoCam should capture, as well as track the spacecraft’s progress.
“Being a part of a project that has such educational benefits for the public is really special,” said Vancea. “The whole team is so honored to have been involved, and it’s just outstanding that the camera stretches Rockwell Collins’ legacy in space all the way to Jupiter.”
To learn more about this mission and view the images captured by JunoCam visit NASA’s Mission Juno Homepage.
-By Emily Gries