Ruggedizing A Cheap Camera For Spacecraft Testing

Name the countries that house a manned space program. In order of arrival in space, USSR/Russian Federation, United States of America, People’s Republic of China. And maybe one day, Denmark. OK, not the Danish government. But that doesn’t stop the country having a manned space program, in the form of Copenhagen Suborbitals. As the tagline on their website has it: “We’re 50 geeks building and flying our own rockets. One of us will fly into space“. If that doesn’t catch the attention of Hackaday readers, nothing will.

For their rocket testing they need a lot of video feeds, and for that they use cheap Chinese GoPro clones. The problem with these (and we suspect many other cameras) is that when subjected to the temperature and vibration of being strapped to a rocket, they cease to work. And since even nonprofit spaceflight engineers are experts at solving problems, they’ve ruggedized the cameras to protect them from vibration and provide adequate heatsinking.

The heat issue is addressed by removing the camera case and attaching its metal chassis directly to a heatsink that forms the end of an extruded aluminium case. Vibration was causing the camera SD cards to come loose, so these are soldered into their sockets. Power is provided by a pair of 18650 cells with a switching regulator to provide internal power, and another to allow the unit to be charged from a wide range of input voltages. A PCB houses both the regulators and sockets for cable distribution. There is even a socket on top of the case to allow a small monitor to be mounted as a viewfinder. Along the way they’ve created a ruggedized camera that we think could have many applications far beyond rocket testing. Maybe they should sell kits!

We’ve covered Copenhagen Suborbitals before quite a few times, from their earliest news back in 2010, through a look at their liquid-fueled engine, to a recent successful rocket launch. We want to eventually report on this project achieving its aim.

Thanks [Morten] for the tip.

13 thoughts on “Ruggedizing A Cheap Camera For Spacecraft Testing

  1. 18650 and lithium secondary cells in general have terrible low temp performance. I think using lithium primary cells like what a lot of rocket clubs and high altitude balloon fliers use would probably be better.

    1. As their name suggests their goal is a ballistic none orbital manned flight, so they are not interested days of runtime in space weather. Their craft design sits the passenger on top under an acrylic dome and he’s supposed to eject at the apogee and parachute down to earth.

    1. Got to agree, whilst it looks ruggedized on the outside, the inside not so much. The circuit board is not on shock mounts. The white box connectors don’t all look to be latching and the wire looms are neither laced, cable-tie bundled nor fixed down. The box does not look moisture-proof, no sealant on the plugs, but it has ample room to secure a dessicant packet. Nore are there shock mounts on the outside of the box, for instance the type used for light aircraft standby compasses.

  2. The camera isn’t meant to be mounted in, or on, a rocket. It is being used for acquiring footage of ground based engine tests and/or rocket launches. It will always be mounted on the ground structure around the engine test stand or the launch platform, thus size and weight is not an issue. The enclosure is not water- or moistureproof, as it doesn’t need to be. It can tolerate a bit of splashing water, gravel and mud, which is sufficient. Other factors prevent us from operating in rain and fog. Shock mounts don’t work in this environment, I tried that. The white JST connectors are all latching. The heat sink is on the optical side because this is where the camera’s metal frame can be accessed. It won’t generate heat shimmer in front of the lens. You can see the test environment here, two of the CCC cameras are visible, one is under the engine.

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