CubeSat Horizon Sensor Balloon Launch

For his award-winning senior thesis, Kevin Tong ('22) adapted a broad suite of affordable, COTS imaging sensors for use as CubeSat-class Earth horizon sensors.  The selected sensor suite included not only single-diode ("single-pixel") sensors (for simple horizon edge detection) but also full (small) imaging arrays.  Visible-light sensors were included, but the real focus was on IR sensors (for continuous use throughout orbit, even on the dark side of the orbit).  Kevin integrated all top-candidate sensors into a gondola payload for a high-altitude balloon launch, so that at apogee their performance (in identifying and orienting a true, space-like, "black-edged" horizon) could be evaluated.  



Horizon sensor gondola

The payload was successfully launched to an altitude of ~85,000 feet! 



Horizon payload launch

And recovered! (later that evening)



Horizon payload recovery

At apogee, the best-performing horizon sensors were:

1. IR single-diode ("single-pixel", edge-detecting): Melexis MLX90614

2. Small IR imaging array: Melexis MLX90640

See more detail about Kevin's fantastic project in his thesis poster uploaded below!  Both of the top-performing sensors will soon be adapted into PC104 horizon sensor modules (a "basic" and "advanced" version) for inclusion in our CubeSat Kit

Example of MLX90640 horizon image at apogee:



MLX90640 horizon