Aerospace & Security

From a heritage of space developments since 1996, Lambda-X provides custom optical solutions for the markets of Science Payloads (ISS and sounding rockets), Earth Observation, Space Exploration, Vision and Metrology for Defense.

Miniature spectrometer for the Exomars Trace Gas Orbiter Mission.

ExoMars programme

Establishing if life ever existed on Mars is one of the outstanding scientific questions of our time. To address this important goal, the European Space Agency (ESA) has launched the ExoMars programme including two missions to investigate the Martian environment and to demonstrate new technologies preparing the future Mars sample return mission planned in the 2020's.

The missions aim at demonstrating the technology (Essential flight and in-situ enabling technologies necessary for future exploration missions, such as an international Mars Sample Return mission) and carrying out scientific investigations, e.g. (1) search for signs of past and present life on Mars; (2) Investigate how the water and geochemical environment varies; (3) Investigate Martian atmospheric trace gases and their sources.

March 2016, launch of the ExoMars mission n°1!

The first mission of the ExoMars programme consists of an orbiter (the Trace Gas Orbiter) and a capsule that will land on Mars (Schiaparelli). The main objectives of this mission are to search for evidence of methane and other trace atmospheric gases that could be signatures of active biological or geological processes and to test key technologies in preparation for ESA's contribution to subsequent missions to Mars.

Trace Gas Orbiter - Searching for signature gases in the Martian atmosphere

The Trace Gas Orbiter, orbiting at 400km altitude over Mars will accommodate scientific instruments to answer a threefold question:

  • What are the gas traces in the Martian atmosphere, what are their temporal and spatial evolution and the location of their source regions?
  • What is the mapping of the Deuterium/Hydrogen ratio, to provide new information on water reservoirs and atmospheric escape?
  • What is the state of the Martian atmosphere, in particular temperatures, aerosols, water vapour, and Ozone.

The data will be collected by the Trace Gas Orbiter with the use of four different instruments:

  • ACS – Atmospheric Chemistry Suite: IR instruments to investigate the chemistry and structure of the Martian atmosphere.
  • CaSSIS – Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System: A high resolution camera (5 metres per pixel) to provide the geological and dynamical context for sources or sinks of trace gases.
  • FREND – Fine Resolution Epithermal Neutron Detector: to map the presence of hydrogen.
  • NOMAD - Nadir and Occultation for MArs Discovery


NOMAD is a spectrometer suite that can measure the spectrum of sunlight across a wide range of wavelengths (infrared, ultraviolet and visible). This broad coverage of the instrument enables the detection of the components of the Martian atmosphere, even in low concentrations. In addition to identifying the constituents of the Martian atmosphere, NOMAD will also map their locations. The instrument was built by OIP (Belgium), prime contractor with IASB-BIRA, Lambda-X, AMOS, Thales Alenia Space Belgium, MSSL and CSL as subcontractor.

The science team of NOMAD  is led by Dr. Ann Carine Vandaele, Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy, Belgium with the following Co-Principal Investigators: José Lopez Moreno, Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía, Spain; Giancarlo Bellucci, Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica, Italy; Manish Patel, The Open University, United Kingdom.

The measurements will be carried out in solar occultation, i.e. the instrument points toward the Sun when the Orbiter moves at the dark side of Mars, as well as in nadir mode, i.e. looking directly at the sunlight reflected from the surface and atmosphere of Mars.

NOMAD covers the infrared (2.2-4.3 µm) and the ultraviolet-visible (0.2-0.65 µm) spectral regions, using the following three operational modes:

  • The Solar Occultation mode (SO) operates by observing up to six small slices of the full spectral range each second. This allows observing several different target molecules that absorb at different wavelengths, whilst maximising the signal-to-noise ratio for each. During a solar occultation, which lasts about 5 minutes, 300 spectra at each wavelength can be taken providing a profile of the atmospheric composition from the top of the atmosphere down to almost the surface, depending on dust levels.
  • The Limb, Nadir and Occultation mode (LNO) is sensitive to the lower light levels during nadir observations on Mars. The nadir coverage will facilitate the study of the atmospheric composition in addition to examining Martian surface features, such as ice and frost. This measurement will be carried out on average every 3 to 4 sols (a solar day on Mars, or sol, is 24 hours and 39 minutes) with varying local times across the planet.
  • The Ultraviolet and Visible mode (UVIS) will image the wavelength domain between 200 and 650 nm, every second, covering and providing more information about several interesting molecules, such as ozone, sulphuric acid and aerosols in the atmosphere.

UVIS - Our development

Lambda-X was in charge of developing The UVIS (Ultraviolet and VISible) module – named after the spectral range of its spectrometer. It will provide information on several noteworthy molecules in the atmosphere, including ozone, sulphuric acid and aerosols. Along with the two other channels operating in the Belgian-funded NOMAD infrared instrument, UVIS will allow detecting these components in the Martian atmosphere – even in low concentration – and map their position.

Technical challenge

UVIS is a miniature spectrometer designed to measure the electromagnetic spectrum from ultraviolet to visible wavelengths (200-650 nm) at a resolution better than 10 nm. The instrument offers two observation modes corresponding to two lines of sight. The first line points toward the Sun to perform solar occultation measurements, whilst the second collects sunlight reflected from Mars surface and atmosphere. The device is made up of three major sub-systems: the UVIS optical bench, the selector mechanism and the front end viewing optics. Housed within a light-tight enclosure, the optical bench provides the system’s optics core. This section contains a collimation mirror, diffraction grating, focusing mirror and CCD detector. The selector mechanism chooses between the two observation modes; finally, the front end viewing optics consists of two tiny telescopes optimized in terms of mass and volume. UVIS electronics controls the spectrometer and exchanges data with the NOMAD central unit.


Thermal diagnostic tools used to monitor the flap re-entry temperature for Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV).

Project details

Lambda-X worked hand-in-hand with RUAG to develop thermal diagnostic tools used to monitor the flap re-entry temperature for Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV).

Technical challenge

Several heat-resistant windows protect Lambda-X’s custom-developed infrared imaging optics for flap imaging against high-temperature plasma. The system has passed mechanical shock, vibration and heat tests. In charge of optical performances, Lambda-X performed the optical design, assembly and verification of the optics and carried out fracture control tests on key optical components after every key test performed by RUAG. We also supported RUAG during integration for delivering quality control SW, based on custom targets and custom SW.


RUAG received the flight model in July 2013. It was then launched from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana atop a Vega rocket.


Solar Ecartometry Sensor with 1 arcsec resolution for the Picard satellite.

A result of French multi-institutional and international cooperation, Picard is a CNES solar-terrestrial microsatellite mission of the Myriade series. Its overall objective consists in monitoring the solar diameter, differential rotation, and constant (simultaneous measurement of the absolute total and spectral solar irradiance), and in studying the long-term nature of their interrelations. Subcontracting for the CNES, Lambda-X developed the PSES with Belgium’s Coretec (mechanical design) and IASB (electronics).

Technical challenge

The Picard Sun Ecartometry Sensor (PSES) is the fine solar pointer aligning the Picard satellite instruments with the sun and boasting an accuracy higher than 5 arcsec (~0.001 deg). The device is made up of two parts: an optical front and an electronic back. The former, a narrow bandwidth filter at 782 nm in the solar continuum, allows eliminating the disturbance caused by the presence of sunspots. The filtered Sun image is projected on the four quadrants detector of the electronic back part. Each photodiode of the detector provides a voltage output proportional to the received light intensity. The two parts of the SES are directly mounted on the SODISM instrument to minimize the misalignments.

Key technical characteristics

Field of view 2000 arcsec (0.55°)
Absolute accuracy 5 arcsec
Resolution 1 arcsec


Launched in June 2010 and initially designed for a 2-year mission, the Picard satellite’s operation has been extended until 2015.


Heat transfers through the observation of controlled evaporation processes present at a liquid-gas interface.

Project details

Developed with Belgium’s QinetiQ Space and Germany’s EADS-Astrium (Friedrischaffen) for ESA, CIMEX was designed to be used on-board the International Space Station (ISS), to be embedded inside the Fluid Science Laboratory (FSL), a European facility dedicated to fluid physics inside the Columbus European Module.

Technical challenge

The scientific purpose of the project consisted in studying heat transfers through the observation of controlled evaporation processes present at a liquid-gas interface. 
Lambda-X was in charge of the optical sub-system design, manufacturing and tests, including the tomographic reconstruction software and development of the optical ground support equipment simulating the FSL optical system.
The optical sub-system embedded three crucial diagnostics: first, an infrared imager of the liquid surface, second, a Schlieren deflectometer used to control the liquid-gas interface flatness in a closed-loop fashion and third, a 6-views optical laser interferometry-based tomograph. The whole was combined in a very compact assembly optically interfaced to the FSL optical diagnostics.

Lambda-X also supplied QinetiQ Space for the experimental cell glass section of the Cimex project. This dodecagonal glass cell boasted extreme alignment specifications, as the glass had to be distributed with 30° +/-12arcmin in between each side with a front-to-front glass alignment under 18 arcsec. This was manufactured through the controlled gluing of twelve high-spec glass blocks.




A payload project integrating three major optical diagnostics.

Project details

The Selectable Optical DIagnostics (SODI) payload project, developed in collaboration with QinetiQ Space for ESA, embeds three major optical diagnostics. Each Optical Diagnostics works on two parallel optical channels: two-wavelengths interferometers (Mach-Zehnder types), a Fourier interferometer with two perpendicular views and a separate module (separated for safety reasons related to the investigated solutions) dedicated to near-field scattering on colloid solutions.

Technical challenge

Lambda-X took charge of the optical concepts, design, manufacturing, integration and tests of all optical subsystems.


SODI has been on-board the International Space Station since 2009, where it has performed several experimental runs on colloids and “IVIDIL” and “DSC” scientific experiments.


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Lambda-X creates and manufactures optical systems for Space, Security, Industrial and Medical applications. Upon the successful transfer of a patented optical design for a space experiment, Lambda-X has become since 2008 a world leader in Quality Control for ophthalmic products with NIMO instruments. Lambda-X is expanding in Industry & Secutrity markets as custom optical systems are a powerful innovation engine in multiple segments.