10 May 2022 saw the first public presentation of Creotech Instruments S.A.’s new product line, where the company unveiled a prototype of CreoSky 6000, its innovative astronomical camera. The event was attended by representatives of the Polish Space Agency. The camera’s primary purpose is to detect space debris and very dim objects. Creotech Instruments S.A. developed the product for the European Space Surveillance and Tracking System, Europe’s early warning system against threats to space infrastructure. The company is aiming to market the advanced camera in mid-2023, with aspirations to release it globally, including in the US and Japan.
“Earth orbit is becoming increasingly crowded. It is seeing the simultaneous addition of more and more artificial satellites, which decay slowly after many years in the harsh conditions of space, releasing large amounts of debris. This issue also affects other artifacts of human presence in space, including spent rocket stages. The cameras presented by Creotech Instruments address this very problem. Their design has been carefully optimized for interoperation with optical telescopes belonging to networks monitoring space from the surface of our planet,” says Grzegorz Brona, President of the Management Board of Creotech Instruments S.A.
Most space debris is small, in the order of a few centimeters. However, on account of their speed of travel (thousands of kilometers per hour), they present a severe threat to space infrastructure. Spacecraft can only protect themselves against debris by performing collision avoidance maneuvers. It is estimated that there are currently around 900,000 pieces of “space junk” in space ranging from 1 to 10 cm in size. For space assets to be able to avoid them through avoidance maneuvers, their orbits must be constantly tracked.
The system developed by Creotech Instruments will be sensitive enough to detect light-reflecting objects mere centimeters in size. For this purpose, CreoSky 6000 cameras are equipped with a powerful sCMOS-class light-collecting sensor. The sensor provides high image resolution (37 Mpix) and, above all, record-low read noise (3 electrons), allowing for the observation of very dim objects. The sensor has a diagonal of 9 cm and a framerate of 22 frames per second. If the recorded field of view is narrowed down, the data acquisition range can be increased multifold, a feature particularly important in the case of object tracking.
“CreoSky 6000 is currently the most advanced camera produced in the European Union designed to record high-speed objects with low light emission. It features a reprogrammable logic and a specialized application processor that enables real-time data processing. The camera can operate autonomously without connecting to a classic external control unit. This is a unique feature, thus far rarely found in these types of devices, proven in the most advanced control and measurement systems for high energy physics, i.e. particle accelerators. The camera was designed for the European Space Surveillance and Tracking early warning system against threats to space infrastructure,” says Paweł Zienkiewicz, the camera’s Chief Architect in Creotech Instruments S.A.
The EUSST program, of which Poland is a member, was planned under the European Union’s new financial perspective. In 2020, the program included 33 observation telescopes, which are expected to be modernized and built in the coming years.
“In addition to allocating cameras in the European program, we also intend to offer them for the purpose of similar programs running in the United States, Japan and several other countries that need to protect their space assets. In the near future, we also plan to enter other optoelectronic markets in need of solutions capable of detecting light flashes consisting of single photons. One market like that is, for example, quantum key distribution in the telecommunications systems of the future,” says the President of the Management Board of Creotech Instruments S.A.
The innovative camera for professional astronomy applications is being developed as part of an R&D project and is part-financed by the National Center for Research and Development as part of the “Path for Mazowsze” competition. The total value of the project is PLN 7,324,078.15.