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Artemis Imagery

Season 1Episode 226Jan 7, 2022

Gary Cox describes the imaging systems on board the Orion spacecraft that will enable the earthbound to see the Earth and Moon from deep space during Artemis missions. HWHAP Episode 226.

Houston We Have a Podcast Ep 226 Artemis Imagery

Houston We Have a Podcast Ep 226 Artemis Imagery

From Earth orbit to the Moon and Mars, explore the world of human spaceflight with NASA each week on the official podcast of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Listen to in-depth conversations with the astronauts, scientists and engineers who make it possible.

On Episode 226, Gary Cox describes the imaging systems on board the Orion spacecraft that will enable the earthbound to see the Earth and Moon from deep space during Artemis missions. This episode was recorded on December 7, 2021.

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Gary Jordan (Host): Houston, we have a podcast! Welcome to the official podcast of the NASA Johnson Space Center, Episode 226, “Artemis Imagery.” I’m Gary Jordan and I’ll be your host for the first episode of the new year. On this podcast, we’re bringing in the experts, scientists, engineers, astronauts, all to let you know what’s going on in the world of human spaceflight. Happy new year to our listeners! I’m very excited for 2022 and I hope you are, too. A lot is happening in human spaceflight this year: more activity aboard the station including commercial crew flights, we’re flying private astronauts; we’re also aiming for the first flight of the Orion spacecraft on top of the Space Launch System rocket for the Artemis I mission. We hope to put out a lot of Artemis content this year and explore the nooks and crannies of all the intricate parts that make up these efforts. So we’ll start off the year with an Artemis episode. On this episode, we’re exploring imagery. That’s right, pictures of the Earth and Moon on a spacecraft meant for humans. We’ll be getting glimpses of exciting moments, like Earthrise that we got from the Apollo era, but now as part of a new program and a new era of sustainable exploration. Imagery is one of the parts of this mission I am especially looking forward to. So to help us understand how these imaging systems are going to work, we’re bringing in Gary Cox, avionics power and wiring manager for the Orion program. He’s been in that position since 2014, but he has over 30 years of experience at NASA. In his role, he’s responsible for the design, development, test and evaluation, the production, and the sustaining of flight-quality hardware. In addition, he has served as the Orion representative for the Artemis Imagery Working Group, to bring the public closer to Artemis missions, and we’ll hear a lot about that on today’s episode. Prior to joining the Orion program, Gary held a number of leadership roles in the space station and Space Shuttle Programs. He also has many years of experience in critical avionics development, including electrical design software and coding for various projects, including the orbital interface unit. As a contractor before his time as a civil servant, he worked for Lockheed Space Operations Company as a design engineer, supporting the Space Shuttle Program in various lab and simulator updates. He’s a guy with a lot of experience. So, let’s pull as much as we can to help us understand what went into the design of Artemis imaging systems and what we can expect to share with the world once we’re flying, again, around and eventually on the Moon. Enjoy.

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Host:Gary Cox, thanks for coming on Houston We Have a Podcast today.

Gary Cox: Thank you. I’m happy to be here and look forward to talking about the new Orion program as well as the imagery aspects of the Orion —

Host: It’s going to be a big deal, Gary.

Gary Cox: Yeah, I’ve got a really great team working on this project and I think we, we’re going to have very good results here in the future, so looking forward to talking with you.

Host: I’m definitely looking forward to seeing these pictures as well, but I think what we’re going to talk about here today is just how all this is going to work, how we are going to get these beautiful pictures from the Moon, all the networks and hardware that’s associated with it. But to dive into that story, I think we need to first understand what is the spacecraft that the imagery systems are on, and that will maybe help us to understand how everything is, is connected and where things are. We’re talking about the Orion spacecraft today. So, Gary, give us a brief overview. What exactly is the Orion spacecraft?

Gary Cox: OK, the Orion is the new capsule that will be launched into space as part of the Artemis program. It’s going to provide mission support, carrying humans to and from deep space. It’s equivalent to the Apollo capsules that were flown many, many years ago, but this is a new and improved version.

Host: New and improved. It’s a little bit bigger and it’s got some, it’s got new technologies. This is really the next-generation spacecraft for, for the Moon, is that right?

Gary Cox: That’s correct, and we’ll be carrying up to four crewmen as well to the Moon, so yeah.

Host: Oh, OK. And what is the, what is Orion going to launch on? How is it going to get to the Moon?

Gary Cox: The initial goal is to return humans back to the Moon and beyond as part of the Artemis missions. What we’re doing is part of the bigger program where we’re building a new launch rocket. We’re building the Orion capsule. We’re building a Gateway that’s going to be flying around the Moon. It’s kind of like a mini International Space Station that orbits the Moon. We’re also working on Human Lander System that will be attached to this Gateway. Orion is going to carry the crewmen up to the Gateway, transfer to the HLS lander system, and then go land on the Moon, and then the Orion will bring the vehicle back. So that’s the overall general mission goals for the Artemis in the near term.

Host: All right, and Orion is really part of that story. It sounds like there are several components that make up the whole Artemis mission. You got to, you got to have that capsule that’s going to actually carry the crew. You got to have the rocket that’s going to deliver them. There’s a Gateway which is an orbiting platform around the Moon, Human Landing Systems, which are actually going to bring the crew themselves to the lunar surface. So we’re focusing really on that first part, is the human transportation to lunar orbit, it sounds like. And then from there, they transfer, they transfer to a Human Landing System. So what we’re talking about is the imagery systems on board that capsule. What other systems are on board, Gary, when it comes to, you know, what exactly does it take? What is unique about the, the Orion capsule to sustain human life inside of it?

Gary Cox: Well, the Orion capsule is part of a bigger picture. We have the launch rocket itself, which is the SLS, Space Launch System, one of the largest rockets NASA’s ever built, and then the capsule itself, part of that is also the Launch Abort System that will attach to the top of the Orion. This combination will get them into deep space safely.

Host: Well, you said, we’re going to get into space safely. This is, how I’ve heard about it, is it’s a phased mission approach. So we’re going to have several missions to build up these capabilities and a lot of the infrastructure that we’re talking about, too, but the first one is called Artemis I.

Gary Cox: Yeah.

Host: And that’s coming up here, well, at the time that this podcast is going to release, we’re aiming for this year, 2022. So what is Artemis I?

Gary Cox: Yes, Artemis I is the first mission that actually combines Orion with the Space Launch System as well as the Launch Abort System, and launches together as one. Orion will be launched into the near-Earth orbit and then proceed on to the Moon. It’ll do a very global elliptical overview of the Moon itself. It will be an unmanned mission to fully test and check out the SLS and the Orion capsule itself prior to the first manned mission to the Moon, which will be Artemis II. So again, this is kind of like a test mission to ensure everything functions properly, safely, so we can safely bring crew and worldwide experience to the Moon and back.

Host: And there are a lot of things that are going to be tested and verified before we are comfortable with putting crew on board. And so, one of those systems, Gary, is the thing that you manage, and that is avionics, one of the many components. There are power, there is environmental control and life support systems, there’s a lot of different components that make up the Orion capsule, but today we’re going to be diving into avionics and the imagery system is a part of that, but overall, exactly, help us to understand what exactly is avionics aboard Orion?

Gary Cox: Yeah, avionics are the electrical components, or the computers, that manage various systems on the capsule itself. We’ve broken up in categories, categorized it into different groups. The main categories are command and data handling, which is our core avionics that controls the vehicle, the capsule itself; then there’s other systems including guidance, navigation, and control, which helps to navigate the vehicle to and from the Moon, and then there’s communication and tracking. Communication and tracking obviously provides all the comm[unication] systems to allow us, from Earth, to communicate to Orion and track the vehicle itself. And then, finally, all those major components that we just talked about require power to operate. So we have this electrical power system as our other major category of components that we have to fly on the vehicle.

Host: So it sounds like the avionics, it sounds like there’s, you’re, you’re taking up a lot of room in Orion, right? There’s a lot of very important hardware that you are responsible for, for all of these different components. How exactly are they laid out in Orion? Are they all separate boxes, separate systems, all with separate, you know, flows of how that data and power and how everything is routed? Is everything consolidated into similar boxes because it’s all part of avionics? How exactly is it laid out?

Gary Cox: There are many different components that operate and function individually. There are a few that encompass multiple activities. For example, we have some major component boxes that control the command and data handling, but they also have guidance and navigation operations within them, and they help manage the electrical power, making sure the power we get from the batteries is distributed properly. So there is a lot of sharing. We have this integrated system, integrated network onboard the vehicle, where all these boxes are connected, talking to each other. We have a few command and data handling boxes that are the core, critical boxes that are required to operate the vehicle itself and collect and gather data from some of these other major components or subsystems.

Host: And you have a lot of redundancy on these systems, right? Especially because you’re going to be in a deep space environment, you have a higher radiation environment and that can flip the number sometimes, and so, the, the data that’s being sent through some of these systems has to be reliable. And so I’m assuming a lot of these have backup boxes and things of that nature to make sure that, that your data is reliable and has that redundancy.

Gary Cox: Yes, that is true. We have redundant computers, but even within these computers themselves we have redundancy built into those computers. So in many cases, we have four different individual computers monitoring and managing the same information. We have a network that connects all these together, that has three connections to ensure we have redundancy and reliability, that interconnects all these major component boxes together. So yes, redundancy is very important to ensure crew safety and mission success.

Host: So it sounds like, when it comes to avionics and managing these systems, it sounds like there’s, in terms of the overall how this is approached, is there is, there’s a hardware side of things, maybe there’s an electrical side of things, sounds like there’s a lot of coding. The team that you manage, is that sort of what you’re, what you’re looking after? You’re looking after the code, you’re looking after, you know, the network, the electrical systems. It sounds like you have a pretty big, pretty big task to manage and there’s a lot of work to be done just on these components of Orion.

Gary Cox: Well, the way we’ve broken it up is, for the Orion capsule itself, we have the hardware aspect of it to ensure we build reliable hardware components that can fly on the capsule itself. I manage that production as well as the connectivity, the wiring, miles and miles of wiring in this vehicle to connect all these boxes up together, and then the power to make sure that all gets distributed. And at the very low level these boxes, internally, there is software that operates on these to help establish this communication, tracking, and monitoring. We have another group in our office that manages the software aspects of it. I’m focused mostly on the hardware production and lower-level coding of those boxes, but the high-level software production where they write software programs to make sure each of these things are talking properly and collecting the right data and commanding and communicating, that’s done by a different group.

Host: OK, OK. Now, now from the hardware component, because this is what you’re overseeing, are you responsible for developing these from the ground up, or maybe some of these components are commercial off the shelf, or maybe it’s some sort of hybrid of the two where it’s commercial off the shelf but maybe with some modifications? What’s your approach to the hardware aspect of avionics?

Gary Cox: Yeah, it depends greatly on the functionality of the hardware component itself. Many, many of our components that I manage are custom-built boxes. You can’t go buy a computer off the shelf and fly it safely in space such that it will tolerate the environments that it has to be exposed to: radiation environments, thermal environments, things of that nature, the vibrations. So to ensure that the hardware components themselves are ready for spaceflight, deep space, we have to deal with those aspects. We custom-build them if they’re responsible for critical phases of the mission. For example, the command and data handling is a critical box to make sure it operates properly. There are other boxes on the vehicle that if it fails, OK, it won’t end the mission, we lose a little bit of data, but it won’t put the crew at risk, it won’t put the mission or the success at risk. For those kinds of boxes, we look for more off the shelf, commercial off the shelf type boxes that we can fly as is, or we modify them slightly to make them adapt to the Orion vehicle itself. So kind of different aspects. It greatly depends on the importance of the box we’re building.

Host: OK. Now, this feeds in nicely to how we should be thinking about the imagery system, right? And you mentioned in terms of the avionics, there’s guidance, navigation, and control there’s communication tracking, electrical power. There’s a lot of different aspects to what makes up avionics. Where does the imagery system fit in terms of this overall scheme?

Gary Cox: So the imagery system that we, on the Orion we call it the video system. It’s part of our command and communication and tracking system — comm and track manages the video subsystem. And so, it’s a way of communicating, if you will, in a different form, the mission itself. And it’s also a way of tracking information and sending it down to the Earth for communication perspective to a worldwide audience. So that’s how we manage our video system.

Host: All right, so they’re running through the communication and tracking avionics boxes. Now, of course, one of the important aspects of an imagery system are the cameras, so let’s get into where the cameras are located inside Orion?

Gary Cox: OK, yeah, we have quite a few cameras. We have three different groups that fly on the vehicle itself and they include internal cabin cameras that are going to be inside. Right now, for the Artemis I mission, its crewless, but, you know, won’t be a crewed mission, but we will have those internal cameras as though there were crew onboard and getting different views. We have external cameras and those cameras are mainly used for flight test objectives in critical mission phases that we want to make sure are operating properly, the vehicle is responding properly and that there’s no, anything unexpected. And then there’s what we call external SAW cameras. The SAW camera is a solar array wing camera. Basically, the solar array wings are, if you will, it’s like an X-shaped wing that sticks out the bottom of the Orion vehicle and it’s used to collect solar power and distribute that to the vehicle itself. On the very edge ends of these wings that stick out to collect the solar power are cameras, and we use those cameras to view different angles of the capsule itself. As you rotate the SAW cameras, the solar array wings, you get a different view perspective from the cameras. So we have four different ones on the external that give you a completely different perspective of the mission itself.

Host: Fantastic. Let’s dive into each of them. So you said, you talked about three different groups, internal cabin cameras, you talked about the external cameras on the module, and then the external cameras on the solar arrays. Let’s start with internal. So what exactly are the internal cameras trying to show? What can we expect to see when we’re looking inside the vehicle during the mission?

Gary Cox: OK, so there’s going to be three internal cameras. These are wireless cameras. One of them is going to be pointing straight up the capsule towards the tip of the capsule out the window, the hatch view. That’s going to show undocking — as we launch into space, you know, we’re all connected together, to the SLS, then the Orion, then the Launch Abort System; as we launch into space the Launch Abort System is no longer needed and so we have a separation there, and that camera will view and show that separation as the Launch Abort System separates from the Orion vehicle and falls back to the Earth. We also have some cabin crew views where a camera is positioned behind the seats where the crew would be sitting, pointing to the cabin to kind of give you a visual perspective of what the crew will see come Artemis II when we have crewed missions. And then we have another angle that shines out the window itself to give you another perspective of the view from the Orion capsule.

Host: All right, I’m looking forward to seeing all of those, that’s for sure. Now, you said external cameras, too, right? And then you said that these external cameras that are pointed towards the capsule itself, you said they’re used for flight test objectives, and you mentioned that they are critical cameras. So what exactly are they, are they looking at, what are the objectives?

Gary Cox: Yeah, so for example, when the capsule itself, so I mentioned the Launch Abort System detaching from the top of the Orion capsule, well, before we come back and splash down to Earth, the bottom portion of the capsule has to separate from the CMA adapter, the Crew Module Adapter, that allows us, you know, that has the connectivity of the SAW cameras and things of that nature, and the engines, so that the capsule itself is by itself and can come reenter into Earth’s atmosphere and splash down, but before it does that, we have a camera that’s pointing to the bottom of the Orion capsule, looking at the bottom to make sure there’s no defects or deficiencies upon separation, to make sure we have a safe separation, there’s no debris that hit the bottom of the capsule such that when we come back into splashdown we have no risks or concerns to be worried about. So collecting that information on this unmanned mission is critical to make sure everything is lined up for the future missions, with crewed missions. So that’s one angle. The other angle is the camera is attached to the side of the capsule pointing down towards the Crew Module Adapter and shows the operation of the SAW cameras rotating while you’re in deep space, and it shows the full separation as well from a different perspective as we separate the vehicle from the different adapters as it gets launched. We have two different ways of connections to our ESM (European Service Module) module cameras. We have a wired connectivity while we’re docked and connected; as soon as we separate, we switch to a wireless connectivity to transmit the data as we’re floating apart.

Host: Very interesting. OK, OK.

Gary Cox: So while we’re connected, we’re collecting all the data via the wired connectivity — except for the SAW cameras, those are going to be wireless anyway. But then, as soon as we separate, we’re going to switch from that wired connection to a wireless connection to transmit the data to the capsule so that we can translate it down to Earth. So that’s how the post-separation portion works.

Host: I see. OK, OK. The other ones you were mentioning in terms of the external cameras were more, it sounded like was at the ascent phase, because you’re talking about fairing jettison. So, the fairing being the component of the Space Launch System that is completely engulfing the Orion capsule, if I’m correct in that, it’s really covering the Orion capsule until it gets to, until it gets to orbit. Do I have that right?

Gary Cox: Once we get it — right, once we get to low-Earth orbit, so, right, when you see the capsule, the vehicle sitting on the launch pad, you don’t see our solar array wings, you don’t see our rocket engines off our ESM service module, because it’s all covered up with fairings. Once we get that rocket into space, we separate from the Launch Abort System, then we separate from, in addition to separating from the launch vehicle itself, we don’t need those fairings anymore to protect it because we’re in space now, we’ve made it through the ascent. And so, we separate the fairings so that we can expose the actual Orion capsule and the service module itself so that we can operate the engines, we can operate the solar array wings, and these cameras will show that fairing jettison occur. And then the wing, solar array wings, come out as the vehicle takes on itself to head towards the Moon.

Host: OK. That sounds like it’s a shared responsibility, right? So the Space Launch System is going to have its own cameras to verify different phases of the Space Launch System’s ascent into orbit, but these cameras do a little bit of both. It does the fairing, so it’s looking at the rocket, too, but it has that very important job of making sure that the solar arrays themselves deploy because we need to collect power for that journey around the Moon.

Gary Cox: Right, right. There’s a separate video system on the SLS that looks at other things, but once we get the separation, Orion is by itself, it’s got all these imageries to capture critical information as well.

Host: Now, the four wireless cameras that are on the solar array wings, it sounded like, from what you were saying, that the cameras themselves are at the very tips of the solar arrays. So if you were looking at the X shape, they are at the very tips of the X shape, and it sounds like they have a little bit of movement. Is that movement dependent on the solar array rotation, or does it have its own camera gimbal that you can use to adjust the camera itself independent of the solar array rotation wherever you need to?

Gary Cox: Yeah, they’re fixed on the solar array wings, but as you rotate the solar array wings, or you angle the solar array wings, you will get a different view with the cameras themselves. Be very good views of the sides of the, you know, if they’re pointing up towards the vehicle, depending on where the Sun is with respect to the vehicle, you could have the wings all pointing towards the front of the vehicle and you’ll get a good perspective of the capsule. As the Sun moves behind the Orion capsule, you’ll rotate the solar array wings and get a different perspective. Perhaps even as you fly by the Moon, you’ll get a different perspective. And there’s going to be different phases of the mission where we don’t need to collect the solar array power, if you will, because we have internal batteries that are being charged, that we could rotate these solar array wings specifically to capture good imagery as we fly by the Moon, as we depart from Earth; different perspectives. We can use these solar array wings to collect good imagery.

Host: Very cool. So that really covers a lot of the different video angles that we’re going to get for the mission in terms of coverage. What are your expectations in terms of how often through the, you know, several weeks-long mission that is Artemis I, how often do you think we’ll be getting some, some good camera views depending on where we are at the various phases of flight?

Gary Cox: Yeah, and that’s part of some of the flight test objectives on this Artemis I mission, and, you know, for example, for the solar array wings, these are Wi-Fi connected cameras that are on the very tips of these solar array wings. There’s a lot of interference, a lot of different angles that these are going to be pointing to, and we’re going to be measuring and evaluating the strength of the signal from those cameras to determine different positions and how it may or may not affect the imagery. All of these cameras will be recording data; many of them will be streaming data. The amount of data that we are able to livestream is very dependent upon what phase of the mission we’re in, given Orion vehicle itself is going through three different orbital phases, if you will, which gives us different communications to the Earth and different limitations that we have to work through.

Host: It is a test mission, so that’s part of the objective, right, is we’ll see, you know. We did our, it sounds like you guys did a lot of work to have a good understanding of the capabilities and what you’re hoping for, but it’s not really until you fly it that you really have an understanding of how this is going to work. So this will be a demonstration, and it’ll be a very exciting mission, I guess for you, right?

Gary Cox: Yes, very good from all perspectives. I’m looking forward to it.

Host: OK, perfect. So that covers the, a lot of what we’re going to see in this mission, and we talked about this being, in terms of the avionics components of Orion, this being part of communication and tracking. We’re getting these signals from inside and outside the Orion capsule. There are a couple more cameras that I think are pretty interesting to cover, and one of them is for navigation and it’s called the OpNAV (optical navigation) camera. Now, Gary, what’s OpNAV?

Gary Cox: Yes, OpNAV camera is used internally for navigation to help the Orion vehicle navigate in different critical phases of the mission. If we have loss of comm with our vehicle, we are unable to communicate from the ground to the vehicle various navigation information that the vehicle itself is on its own, and that’s where the OpNAV system will help take over to ensure the safety of the vehicle is brought back to Earth. It’s independent of the Orion imagery system or the video system itself. It collects data, imagery, still images, but it’s used internally — it’s not downlinked, it’s not part of our imagery program itself. It’s primarily used to help determine where in the lunar mission, or in the Earth mission, where we are located in space to help bring us back. And as part of the flight test objectives for Artemis I, this is a new system, and we’re going to be certifying this OpNAV on the way up to the Moon such that, and comparing it with the actual star tracker data and real data that we’re providing from Earth, and then it’ll be certified and ready to confirm. It’s a good independent fallback position should we lose comm for future missions, crewed missions, as well as return to the Earth.

Host: Interesting. So the flight controllers are looking at guidance, navigation, and control from some of the, we’ll call them maybe primary systems of guidance, navigation, and control, on Orion, but this one, it sounds like is really, what it sounds like is it’s a camera that works by itself to sort of help out, or maybe the guidance, navigation, and control officers in mission control have some insight into what this OpNAV system is doing, but sounds like its purpose is really to aid Orion and serve as a backup rather than a primary navigation component.

Gary Cox: Correct.

Host: OK, I have a good read-back on that. That’s good. The other cameras that I’m aware of are cameras that are going to be looking at parachutes. Now —

Gary Cox: Yeah, these are external. We call them forebay cameras. They’re not internal cabin but they’re external to the vehicle itself, pointing up, looking as we deploy the chutes, as we come into re-entry, and these are high-speed cameras that record data and store them on the camera itself. And post-mission we’re able to recover that information and look at the timeline as we re-enter and do splashdown and determine how everything worked, if it was as currently planned. So it’s not part of the overall imagery system, not connected, if you will; it’s independent, but the data is important, again, as part of the flight test objectives, to ensure this first flight everything works properly.

Host: Very good. Now, back to the, some of the cameras that we’re going to see that are part of the communication and tracking. We talked about video and we said we’re going to get some coverage, and that’s one of those test objectives, is to really just see the kind of coverage that we’re going to get. But are there mission objectives or even the capability for some of these cameras to take still images throughout the flight?

Gary Cox: Yes, we will be taking still images and video. Different resolution. Wireless cameras, for example, have still images of 1,000 by 3,000. The video itself can be recorded up to 4k at 30 frames per second, but again, we will have limitations in downlinking a lot of these video imagery just given capsule size and the communication system we have to go through. We have to streamline the video that comes down to Earth, that’s livestreamed, but we will be recording a very good high resolution on multiple cameras and storing the data on the vehicle itself.

Host: Is there enough storage capacity to, I guess, record, really the, all phases of the mission, all several weeks, you know, depending on the phase that we actually go with, but is there enough storage capacity on board to capture really the entire mission?

Gary Cox: Yeah, we do have good storage on the vehicle itself. We will have to manage it properly. There’s different phases of the mission where we have a little bit higher bandwidth in our communications to Earth, and when we’re in those certain phases we will be able to downlink some of these stored imageries, video files, to free up space to allow us to store more. So we are working through that as well.

Host: Fantastic. Now, let’s go into, so we have a nice deep understanding of the imaging system on board Orion and how they are connected and some, and how some of them are independent. We have a pretty good idea of some of the cameras that we’re going to have on board the Orion capsule. In terms of the Artemis I’s objectives, we’ve covered them, sort of scattered, as we were going through the different components of the imaging system, but if we had to consolidate, really what are the objectives, specifically for the imagery system onboard Artemis I? What is it really we are trying to accomplish and walk away from to get us ready for future missions?

Gary Cox: Yeah, the bottom line is the two main objectives for the imagery system is to capture the flight test objective data, to ensure we have a safe-built vehicle for the crew, that all phases of the mission that we have planned for operate as planned, and no issues come up or anything we can document. If it does record things, we can address them for future missions, make sure we cover it. And then the other aspect, primary goal of the imagery system, is to communicate this mission, the imagery, to the public for awareness, to let everybody know we’re all going back to the Moon. And so we want to make sure we’ve got good imagery that communicate that.

Host: I know that’s important for us in public affairs, where we’re very excited to share some of this. In terms of imagery goals in the sense of parts of the mission where we want to capture fantastic imagery, is there anything we should be looking forward to on all phases of flight, really, some images that we think are going to be very exciting from a public perspective to capture and engage a worldwide audience?

Gary Cox: Yeah, for me, the biggest image is going to be of the Moon flyby as we look through these various external cameras, and look how close we get to the Moon, the big elliptical orbit we do around it, and then return back to Earth. Just seeing that real-time, seeing that in this day and age as opposed to many, many, many years ago when we did it for Apollo, is going to be a very, very exciting effort to communicate to the world.

Host: I’m very much looking forward to that, that’s for sure. Now, the one thing I think is there’s going to be, all these cameras are going to be providing a lot of imagery throughout all phases of the Artemis I mission, but it’s not just going to kind of run on its own. As far as I’m aware, there’s going to be people monitoring the imagery system throughout, throughout the mission in mission control. Now, from the imagery side of things, what are the roles in mission control to make sure the cameras and the imaging system and all these different components that we’ve talked about are doing what they’re supposed to do?

Gary Cox: Yeah, so, you know, as a community we try to build this hardware to be as rugged as possible, and a lot of the imagery system is modified off-the-shelf hardware. We tried to modify it to make it more ruggedized for deep space, but there may be situations where, as you’re in deep space, you get heavy ions, radiation susceptibility, where you may end up getting one of the camera systems reset or get put on hold for some reason, and that’s where we can, from the ground, command to reset that camera itself, to restart it, get it going again. We also, so we’ll be kind of managing, or monitoring, if you will, all the different cameras that are recording data, selecting which cameras, angles, you know, as the mission flies by you’re going to get real-time effects, different views that you weren’t sure you were going to get before. So you want to be able to quickly say, hey, I want this camera view, and so we’ll be able to switch with a command from the ground to downlink certain imagery. A lot of this is automated already, but we need to have crew, the Mission Control Center ready for backup to manage the system in case we have issues that pop up, as well as to manage all the recorded data that’s on the vehicle, so we can downlink it to free up space for more recording video. And also, once it all comes to the ground, our Mission Control Center will review the data and get it ready for public announcement and public awareness.

Host: All right, very important responsibility, Gary. I know from the public affairs side, I’m going to be relying heavily on these guys making sure that we’re getting some of the best views throughout the, throughout the mission. Now, throughout the mission, the feeds and the imagery that’s going to be coming down is coming through different networks. This is interesting because most of my career has been working with missions in low-Earth orbit so I’ve only had a couple of space networks that really we’ve had to worry about, but things are going to be changing for Artemis I because we are going to, into lunar orbit, and with that comes different networks and different capabilities. So how does the network and how these images are being downlinked to mission control, how does that change throughout the flight?

Gary Cox: Yeah, that’s one of the unique things about Orion, a little bit different than like space station, for example, is the Orion capsule is communicating the entire mission — from launch into deep space and back to Earth — but to do that, it has to utilize different comm systems, but on the capsule itself, it’s a single antenna system. So we had to design our network communication system to be able to communicate to these different networks. And so, that does provide some limitations that we have to deal with during the mission. For example, as we launch the Near Earth network that we have to communicate with, it’s only like 1% of the mission, very short duration from launch to actually getting into low-Earth orbit, but we do have very limited downlink capability. So we’re not going to get a lot of high-quality imagery during that phase of the mission. We have some future things I’ll talk to you about later, but to address this in the future missions, but for Artemis I we do have some limitations there. Once we get into low-Earth orbit, we switch to the TDRS (Tracking and Data Relay Satellite), low-Earth orbit groups, and we still have a limited amount of downlink capability. As we continue to progress through the mission we get into the Deep Space Network. That’s where most of our communications are going to be done through, the Deep Space Network to Earth. And that was our primary comm system we designed towards, to get us good comm from lunar vicinity, outer solar system, back to Earth, and that will get much better downlink capability during that phase of the mission. That’s where a lot of the recorded video will be able to be downlinked and things of that nature and we’ll get some good livestreaming during the deep space portion of the mission.

Host: Very exciting, and that’s, I think, what’s one of the most exciting aspects of that, Gary, is when you said that the Deep Space Network is going to be what you primarily designed this capability for because it really is 95% of the mission duration. It is, I mean, most of the time we’re going to be relying on going into deep space and that’s really what we’ve been gearing up towards for a while in terms of human spaceflight. And this, really, when we’re talking about a lot of the things, you know, we’re talking about Artemis I, but really it’s an evolving thing, and we did describe that in the beginning, that this is setting the stage to make sure that the capsule, that all these systems are working, before we put humans on board, but, and you sort of alluded to this even before going into talking about the networks is, we are already thinking about what we need to support the first human mission around the Moon as part of the Artemis program, which is Artemis II. So in terms of what is going to change for the imagery system, what we need, what we’re already looking ahead to doing and what we’re looking forward to verifying on Artemis I to improve Artemis II, what exactly are we already thinking about to gear up for those, those future missions?

Gary Cox: Yeah, we already are making some adjustments right now. We are currently in the process of building the Artemis II vehicle and assembling it, but we’re still looking to make changes. Again, Artemis II is going to be the first manned mission; crew safety is very important. One of the things that we’re doing to ensure crew safety is we’re adding additional imagery internal to the cabin itself to ensure crew safety for future missions. So bottom line is, as the vehicle is being ascent into space we’re going to have cameras of the cabin itself looking at the crew, ensuring safety of the crew itself. That’s imagery that we weren’t, we didn’t have for Artemis I, of that camera view angle, if you will. But in addition to that, to get that data to the ground during the mission itself, as I mentioned, near-Earth orbit, which is the first phase of the launch, we had very limited downlink capability; well, as part of our Artemis II improvements we have greatly improved that downlink capability. It was 240 kilobits per second, we’re up to 2,150 kilobits per second now for Artemis II. We’re going to be able to stream data now during launch for Artemis II, much better improved imagery. And it’s also affecting, the improvements are also affecting deep space improvements as well. So we will get much better imagery for Artemis II. We’re also adding what we call optical comm to improve our downlinks. Optical communications is a way of, instead of an RF (radio frequency) network-type communications to the ground, it’s optical communications to the ground. Optical communications gives you very, very high data rates, so we can transfer a lot of data to the ground. It’s only going to be available certain phases of the mission itself, but when it is available we’ll be able to downlink lots of data using an optical comm system that we’re going to fly on Artemis II. And for the future, you know, we’re not going to stop with just improvements we made for Artemis II. We’re going to be looking to further improve our imagery experience with more upgrades within our system itself to ensure that we always are able to communicate the mission that we’re, and the goals and the objectives, we are doing with the program.

Host: That’s all fantastic, Gary. When you were mentioning the improvements to the ascent imagery and with the optical communication going forward and you were talking about how that translates to higher data rates, you can downlink much more data, higher rates of data, does that translate to better image streaming quality, meaning will we get higher resolution streaming views as we’re watching the mission for Artemis II and beyond?

Gary Cox: That’s part of, for Artemis III, for sure, we’re targeting that. We are looking to make improvements to get better imagery down. Right now, certain aspects of the mission we’re not able to get the full 720p. Our goal is to get there for most phases of the missions, and ultimately to get the 1080p streaming is what we’re targeting in the future, near-term Artemis missions. So we are looking to address not just the improved downlinks, the ability to downlink the video itself that’s been recorded, high-definition video that’s been recorded, but we’re looking to improve our streaming quality. And that’s some of the improvements we’ve made already.

Host: That’s wonderful, Gary, and I know we’re working on the, on the public side to make sure that the public really gets to see all of this. And I know that there’s, you know, there’s a lot in work to make sure that the public really gets to enjoy as much of this as possible, that they’re engaged with the mission, that they’re excited about these upcoming missions, and that’s really what your group is helping to enable. Beyond enabling the mission and getting all the flight controllers and engineers the data that they need, part of what your, what you and your group are doing is helping to get everyone excited about these missions.

Gary Cox: Yeah, looking forward to it and improved imagery to definitely tell the story.

Host: Wonderful. Well, Gary, thank you so much. I learned a lot about the imagery, and I know for myself, my hope is I get to do, I get to sit in mission control and talk about this mission, meaning Artemis I, and also subsequent missions as well. A lot of exciting, a lot of exciting things that are going to happen here in the very near future, all enabled through some of your work. So I appreciate you coming on the podcast and describing in detail everything about the imaging system, and I wish you and your team the best of luck in all the work that you’ve put forward to this first mission and hope you get the data that you’re looking for and to make it even better for the future. So once again, Gary Cox, thanks for coming on Houston We Have a Podcast.

Gary Cox: Thank you very much. I appreciate it and look forward to the upcoming mission.

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Host: Hey, thanks for sticking around. I really enjoyed talking with Gary Cox today. I learned a lot about the imaging system, and that’s something that I’m definitely looking forward to for the Artemis mission, to see some of these fantastic views. For Artemis I is going to be great, but what’s really exciting is Gary mentioned that he and his team are working on improving the quality of those images for future missions, which is even better. So going forward, you can tell this is a sustainable, it’s an evolving program. Very, very exciting to hear from Gary today. So if you want to learn more about the Artemis program, always has the latest. You can go there. We’ll be doing a lot of episodes about Artemis this year, 2022. Very, very exciting. Check us out at I’m sure many of the other NASA podcasts across the agency will be doing the exact same thing. So make sure you check out the full catalog of our podcasts here at NASA at You can talk to Houston We Have a Podcast on the Johnson Space Center pages of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, if you like social media. Just use the hashtag #AskNASA on whichever platform is your favorite to submit an idea, ask a question, and just make sure to mention it’s for us at Houston We Have a Podcast. This episode was recorded on December 7th, 2021. Thanks to Alex Perryman, Pat Ryan, Heidi Lavelle, Belinda Pulido, and Laura Rochon. And, of course, thanks again to Gary Cox for taking the time to come on the show. Give us a rating and feedback on whatever platform you’re listening to us on and tell us what you think of our podcast. We’ll be back next week!