Imaging systems packing a PUNCH
08 Apr 2021



The first engineering model of the CCD camera electronics for NASA’s Polarimeter to Unify the Corona and Heliosphere (PUNCH) satellites has been completed by RAL Space.

Camera electronic engineering model being finalised by a technician.

​​​​​Camera electronic engineering model being finalised at RAL Space.​​​

Credit: STFC RAL Space

The camera electronics will control and acquire images from the CCD sensors on board each of the four PUNCH spacecraft.  PUNCH will help scientists to understand the complex behaviour of the solar wind, a stream of charged particles, as it evolves from the Sun's outer atmosphere, the corona, and begins to travel through the solar system.

One of the PUNCH spacecraft will carry a Narrow Field Imager (NFI) that will continuously image the Sun's corona. The other three spacecraft will carry Wide Field Imagers (WFI) to image the solar wind further from the Sun. Together they will also track coronal mass ejections (CMEs) as they are expelled from the Sun, using polarised imaging to capture CMEs in three dimensions (3D). This will advance our ability to predict the arrival of CMEs at the Earth, the major cause of space weather.

The engineering model is a significant step towards finalising the satellite flight models. It has now been delivered for instrument integration and testing within the WFI engineering model at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio, Texas, on behalf of the SwRI mission lead in Boulder, Colorado.

Dr Nick Waltham, Chief Technologist at RAL Space said: “Space missions are never easy, but our engineers and technicians have gone above and beyond to reach this milestone with some of the team working remotely and some in our clean rooms at RAL. The engineering model is a critical step towards making this mission a reality. Once in orbit, PUNCH's 3D data will transform how we can track solar phenomena, and understand the Sun's effects on the whole solar system."

RAL Space electronics are at the heart of many major space missions. The design for PUNCH builds on the camera electronic for instruments on board the Russian World Space Observatory and NASA's Solar Dynamic Observatory.