Imperx, a Florida-based camera manufacturer (www.imperx.com), makes small CCD-based camera modules for industrial applications. Aside from the fact that they are designed and built to withstand tremendous shock and vibration, they also feature true global shutter readout. Anyone who has used a GoPro camera on rough terrain or where there is excessive vibration can tell you that a global shutter camera is a ‘must have’ in these conditions – otherwise everything in the frame looks like it’s made out of Jell-O.
The Problem –
Virgin Galactic, the brainchild of Richard Branson, is developing a sub-orbital launch vehicle for space tourism. The idea is to launch this vehicle up to near-Earth orbit altitudes so that passengers can see and experience a ride that is literally out of this world. Naturally, everyone who spends the $250K to take one of these rides would like to walk away with some video record of the entire trip. The camera problem here is two-fold. First, how to fit a camera/recorder into the sub-orbital cockpit where every square millimeter of space is accounted for. Second, assuming you can fit a camera somewhere, how to record usable images with the intense vibration that’s present in the cockpit. The first approach was to use a GoPro, but the rolling shutter in these cameras produced images that looked more undersea than outer space.
The Solution –
ACSi was approached by Scott B of Antenna Films to help them find a solution. Although the Imperx camera was a no-brainer for this application because it is inherently a global shutter camera, it’s size was a problem. It was just a bit too deep to fit in the allotted space in the cockpit. Was there a way to separate the ‘front end’ of the camera containing the lens and image sensor from the ‘back end’ containing the image processing and video output electronics?
After several weeks of reverse engineering and searching for the right components, we were able to come up with a solution.
The picture shows a bare board version of the Imperx Bobcat camera where the front end of the camera is separated from the back end by 1 meter. In between is a micro-coax ribbon cable with mating connectors at each end. By judiciously choosing where to split the camera halves, we were able to configure this as a functional camera system with NO image quality degradation. Split in this way, the front end of the camera easily fits into the allotted space in the Virgin Galactic cockpit, and there is enough cable between the front and back ends to position the back end of the camera away from any critical parts.
Sadly, the SpaceShipTwo project was dealt a serious blow on October 31, 2014 during a test flight where a malfunction resulted in the death of one of the test pilots. Hopefully, the project will continue, and when it does, ACSi will be ready.