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Various Options of Imaging Modules for Your CubeSat Payload

Cubesat electronics

Imaging options for cubesats

A CubeSat, like other spacecraft, can be divided into multiple smaller subsystems including Power, Communication, On board data handling, Attitude determination & control as well as a satellite payload subsystems. The payload determines the actual mission and objective of the CubeSat. Most CubeSats carry one or two scientific instruments as their mission payload.

A camera is one possible payload option, enabling researchers to take images of the earth and space for various applications. There are many types of cameras that can be integrated into a CubeSat depending mainly on the application they are to be used for. These applications may include weather forecasting, spying missions, surveillance systems etc. However due to mass, power and bandwidth constraints small low resolution CCD or CMOS cameras are generally used in CubeSats.

A particular imaging sensor needs to be selected depending on the constraints at hand as well as the mission requirement. Both CCD and CMOS sensors each have their own pros and cons. For example, it has been observed that CCD sensors generally consume more power when compared to CMOS cameras. Similarly, data retrieval mechanism differs between CCD and CMOS cameras. Data can be retrieved quicker in CCD cameras, but that data is more prone to errors. On the other hand, CCD technology has been around longer than CMOS technology, which is still evolving.

There is no standard rule for which technology is better suited for space missions. However, certain parameters need to be kept in mind when selecting a camera. These are the reliability of the imaging module, the resolution of the camera and also the speed at which the image is taken. In CubeSats however, the trend is more towards CMOS since consume less power and can be used for longer period of time in space.

While choosing a particular sensor, its space history is also considered. If a sensor has already been successfully used in space, its rating definitely increases. Here we list the various options of imaging sensors, along with their salient features for new CubeSat developers.


IDS UI- 1646LE USB 1.3 Megapixel

  • MicroEye 1/3" CMOS sensor

  • USB 2.0 interface

  • 1280 x 1024 with 25 frames/sec

  • 36 x 36 x 20 mm , 12gm

  • Used in MCUBED satellite by MSU



  • 1/3” CMOS image sensor OV7620

  • I2c interface

  • 664x492 pixels

  • Low power consumption (<120mW)

  • Used in ITU-pSAT-1 and Tokyo University CubeSat X1-IV



  • CMOS sensor manufactured by Motorolla

  • I2c interface

  • 1280 x 1024 with 10fps

  • Used in AAUSAT at the University of Aalborg, Denmark

  • Interfacing issues with MSP430



  • CCD Color Camera by smart circuits

  • 512 x 492 resolution

  • Used in Norway’s nCube1 and nCube2



  • ¼” CMOS imaging sensor by Omnivision

  • μCAM camera module equipped with the serial interface

  • Easy interface, simple commands for various options

  • 640 x 480 resolution

  • JPEG compression module


PB-MV 13 and PB-MV 40

  • Fast CMOS sensors

  • Useful for high resolution requirements as well as high speed image applications

  • 2352 x 1728


OV7648FB Imaging Sensor

  • Small size CMOS sensor

  • Serial Interface

  • Used in COMPASS-1 by Achen Univ, Germany



  • CMOS sensor

  • Available in VGA and CIF forms

  • Used in CAN-X1 by University of Toronto

More technical details of these sensors can be found in their datasheets. Developers can decide to select any of these low power, low cost modules for their premier CubeSats. The optical assembly can be altered and new lenses can be added to achieve better resolution within the limited constraints.

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