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Leti innovation stories

The PACS camera - ESA

Published on 16 April 2016



Among the three state-of-the-art instruments on board the ESA’s 2009 Herschel satellite mission was an extraordinarily precise infrared camera which, if used on Earth, would be capable of picking up a 100-watt light bulb 300,000 kilometers away. In space, the camera is being used to observe the early stages in the formation of stars and galaxies to deepen our understanding of the origin of the universe. In the four years since it was launched, Herschel has provided 25,000 hours of data to some 600 observation programs.


Leti developed a new kind of bolometer for the Pacs camera (one of the three instruments on board Herschel) that offers a much greater number of pixels than existing cameras: 2,048 for the blue array (made up of eight perfectly-joined matrices), and 512 for the red array (with two matrices).

The matrices operate at wavelengths of between 55 and 210 microns and offer record-breaking sensitivity of 10-16 W/√Hz. A cooling system keeps them at 0.3 Kelvin.

Leti worked with IRFU, the Institute for Research on the Fundamental Laws of the Universe, to develop a new silicon technology to meet the unique specifications of infrared/submillimeter astronomy. The most critical points in the development work included the pixels’ vibration-resistance, the connection to the thermal sensor, and calibration of this new type of instrument.

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