In order to verify the functionality of the MEDUSA camera system an extended test campaign has been executed at subsystem and system level. Apart from a test program executed at room temperature including an I/F test with the HALE-UAV platform, the payload was also characterized under representative environmental conditions (pressure and temperature) for a stratospheric flight. Those test were executed in a thermal vacuum chamber at ESA/ESTEC. The MEDUSA stratospheric camera has completed  its system level test campaign successfully in autumn 2012 and is ready for its maiden flight.

First test flights with an engineering model (EM) version of the MEDUSA camera have been conducted and generated a remarkeable image data set. We are now looking forward to bring MEDUSA-FM in the air.

MEDUSA - Monitoring Equipment and Devices for Unmanned Systems at High Altitude


An ultra lightweight multi-spectral camera for a high altitude long endurance (HALE) UAV

The ESA-PRODEX funded MEDUSA project aims to develop a lightweight high resolution multi-spectral instrument for earth observation, which will be embarked on a solar-powered High Altitude Long Endurance Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (HALE UAV). MEDUSA is part of the Pegasus program, set up by VITO to demonstrate the feasibility of remote sensing from a HALE UAV for civil applications.

The MEDUSA instrument is designed to support the Pegasus objective to fill the gap between traditional airborne and spaceborne instruments regarding resolution and coverage. It targets applications such as disaster management and cartography, requiring high resolution images with regional coverage, flexible flight patterns, high update rates and long mission lengths. The HALE UAV is operated at stratospheric altitudes (15 to 18km) and is extremely light-weight, imposing severe restrictions on the weight and operational environment of the MEDUSA instrument.

A phase B preliminary design has been performed in 2006 to investigate the feasibility of the top-level requirements under the given physical and environmental constraints. The results have shown that the top-level requirements of the MEDUSA camera can be met within the given constraints. On 27th November 2006 the phase C/D for the design, production and test of the camera has started at VITO with the support of 9 industrial partners. The MEDUSA camera system has currently passed its system level test campaign and it is waiting its maiden flight.

To be able to realize the top-level specifications imposed by the Pegasus objective a dedicated CMOS image sensor has been developed. The CMOS sensor is unique because of its special aspect ratio (10000x1200 pixels) and the fact that it contains two independently controllable sensors (each 10000x1200 pixels) on one and the same image sensor chip: one sensor is equipped with RGB color filters, one is a panchromatic sensor.

In order to support the development of the MEDUSA-FM camera, an engineering model camera (MEDUSA-EM) has been assembled and flown during a balloon mission. Figure shows a panchromatic image composite at 10 cm ground sampling distance acquired during the balloon flight.