30 years Jena-Optronik

As we are turning 30 years, we a delighted to give you insights on our history as well as future missions with space technology made by Jena-Optronik.


Fit for space: long-range tests for our LiDAR sensor


Usually our sensors are put through their paces in our clean room. To prove the performance of our RVS 3000(3D), tests are required that simulate the approach of a spacecraft to an object in space, e.g. to the ISS.

This requires large unobstructed stretches of up to three kilometers in length. Solution: Use of runways. In recent years, we have been able to use Halle-Leipzig Airport once and the airfield in Schöngleina near Jena regularly for our tests.


A 1:1 model of a docking port supports our team and the sensor: The RVS - mounted in a transporter - emits an eye-safe laser beam, hits its target - e.g. retroreflectors on the docking module of the ISS - and the information sent back is used to determine the position or create a 3D model in real time.


ESA's wind mission „Aeolus“


Aeolus was actually just a test satellite and was the first to reliably record wind speeds around the Earth. This data were used for weather forecasts.

At the end of its lifetime, the Earth observation satellite, which was launched in 2018, slowly descended towards Earth and re-entered our atmosphere over Antarctica at around 21:00 CEST on July 28, 2023. ESA has already shut down the main instrument Aladin (short for: Atmospheric Laser Doppler Instrument) at the beginning of July 2023.

Even in dense cloud cover, the satellite measured wind speeds from an altitude of 30 kilometers to the ground. For this purpose, a UV laser beam was pulsed through a telescope and aimed at the Earth's surface. The telescope collected the signals reflected back from the particles and molecules in the atmosphere, and a computer used these measurements to calculate the speed of particle motion.

Our contributions to the mission:

  • Instrument Software and Thermal Control Software as well as its Satellite Data Base
  • AEOLUS Instrument Up-link Telecommands (TC) and Periodic Telemetry (TM)

Picture: Contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2020), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO


10 years ago: Maiden flight ASTRO APS on Alphasat


Europe's telecommunication satellite Alphasat launched ten years ago on July 25, 2013. An important milestone in our history as it was the maiden flight of our ASTRO APS!


Our star sensor is one out of four Technology Demonstration Payloads (TDPs) on Alphasat and capable of very accurate autonomous attitude acquisition. It represented the transition from CCD to CMOS technology and laid the foundation stone for the success of our ASTRO APS: Meanwhile hundreds of ASTRO APS are now flying on a wide variety of missions and orbits!


We continue its success story with our ASTRO APS3, the next generation versatile star sensor for the high-rel space market, as well as our ASTRO CL, an extremely compact, lightweight and radiation-hard optical head for small satellites and (mega)constellations.


ESA is providing more technical Information on our star sensor:

Pictures Alphasat: © ESA


On our way to the moon! We are Artemis


As part of the NASA mission Artemis I, the spaceship Orion was successfully launched into space on November 16th 2022 and is headed to orbit the Moon.


Congratulations to NASA - National Aeronautics and Space Administration, European Space Agency - ESA all involved partners and especially our customer Lockheed Martin! What a groundbreaking mission. We are proud to be part of the journey with our ASTRO APS.


See our press release for more insides: Spaceship Orion with sensors from Jena on its way to the Moon



Trade shows and conference over time


Participating in events and direct excahnge with our customers and partners has always been an important component in promoting products made by Jena-Optronik.





Celebrating the amazing people, who have been and still are part of our #teamspace.


Picture: © Jena-Optronik GmbH


Exploration of the universe


Space industry can help to explain so many unresolved phenomenons in space. A glance at our history: Jena-Optronik detector system allows the exploration of the universe on NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, formerly GLAST. 


For the mission, whith its main instrument Large Area Telescope (LAT) and the secondary instrument GBM (GLAST Burst Monitor), Jena-Optronik in cooperation with the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics developed and manufactured the essential parts of the GBM and prepared it for its use in space.


The GBM detector system records gamma-ray bursts and to immediately announce both via an international network of observation wards and satellites and to the Large Area Telescope so that subsequent monitoring can be triggered. The Gamma Burst Monitor itself is also recording all available data (spectra and time response) of the ray Bursts.


Picture: NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


11.11.2021 Happy birthday to us!


Signing of the partnership agreement: The company formerly known as Deutsche Aerospace (now Airbus Defence & Space) founds the company Jena-Optronik GmbH together with Jenoptik.


After its registration in the commercial register, Jena-Optronik officially began operating as an enterprise in April 1992.



How our journey to Moon and Mars started


Two colleagues of our teamspace in front of the first ATV „Jules Vernes“ with our integrated RVS at Airbus Defence and Space facilities in Bremen.


ATV is an ESA mission and the contract was carried out under a programme of and funded by the European Space Agency.


Sensors from Jena again on its way to the ISS


Jena-Optronik GmbH signs first long-term agreement for rendezvous and docking sensors with Sierra Space, a subsidiary of Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC).


A US company Sierra Space and the German space company have been working together under NASA's CRS-2 program (short for Commercial Resupply Services 2) since the beginning of 2017. The partnership has now been strengthened with a long-term agreement for the delivery of RVS3000-3D rendezvous and docking sensors to be used on Dream Chaser missions to the International Space Station.


The two companies recently finalized a contract, securing the delivery dates for the first two sensors to be used for follow-on ISS missions on the Dream Chaser® spaceplane.


The Dream Chaser is a commercial cargo transport system that is able to return to Earth on a regular runway - similar to NASA’s Space Shuttle and is reusable 15 times or more. It was selected by NASA as part of the CRS-2 program to supply the ISS with critical cargo capability. Alongside SpaceX and Northrop Grumman Space Systems, Sierra Space is the third space company to offer supply flights to the ISS for NASA, and the only vehicle that provides low g runway landing.


The spacecraft supplies the ISS with food, fuel and scientific experiments. After undocking, Dream Chaser flies back to Earth. When re-entering the atmosphere, the secondary sensor provided by Jena-Optronik burns up while the primary sensors provided by Jena-Optronik fly back to Earth and are then reused on the next flight to the ISS as a part of system with dissimilar redundancy.


“Our sensors are already successfully supporting American and Japanese unmanned space transporters in their missions. Now we have concluded another long-term partnership with a provider of commercial flights to the ISS with the agreement between Sierra Space and Jena-Optronik. With the Dream Chaser, our sensors will also fly on a fully reusable space transporter for the first time - and that too in duplicate! We are very proud to be able to support Sierra Space with our sensors as part of this long-term partnership in the CRS2 program as well as other exciting missions - such as the Sierra Space's own commercial space station.”, Peter Kapell, CEO of Jena-Optronik GmbH.


ROLIS for "Philae“


ESA’s Rosetta mission landed on comet 67P/ Tschurjumow-Gerasimenko on 11. November 2014 – more than 12 years after its launch.


Jena-Optronik, together with the German Aerospace Centre (DLR), developed the lens system and mechanics for the instrument ROLIS (Rosetta Lander Imaging System) on board the lander probe Philae.


ROLIS captured images prior to and after the landing, which will provide knowledge on the comet’s surface characteristics and its multitude of surface structures.


More mission insides: "ROSETTA – ESA'S COMET CHASER"

Picture: “Rosetta’s ever-changing view of a comet” These 210 images reflect Rosetta’s ever-changing view of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko between July 2014 and September 2016.

© ESA/Rosetta/NavCam – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0; ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA; ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA; ESA/Rosetta/Philae/ROLIS/DLR


Space camera from Jena on the hunt for asteroids


Jena-Optronik GmbH is delivering a new camera system to the prime contractor OHB System AG for the HERA mission.


The European Space Agency’s (ESA) space probe HERA, together with its fellow spacecraft, the NASA probe DART (short for: Double Asteroid Redirection Test), plans to investigate the effects of an kinetic impact on an asteroid. The results of this experiment will help to develop methods and technologies to divert such rocks in space. OHB System AG, a subsidiary of the space group OHB SE, won the ESA contract to lead the industrial consortium for HERA.

“HERA is a prestigious mission and we at Jena-Optronik are looking forward to make a decisive contribution to its success with our camera. During this mission, the two probes DART and HERA fly to the asteroid Didymos. While DART will “collide” with the asteroid, HERA's task is to collect relevant data on the results of the impact about four years later - the camera is going to observe the asteroid is manufactured by Jena-Optronik. The purpose of the HERA mission is to gain a better understanding of the structure and composition of asteroids. At the same time, it is anticipated to obtain knowledge which will help us to be better prepared for a potential, necessary defence against an asteroid,” Steffen Schwarz, Head of Marketing & Sales at Jena-Optronik explains.

The camera for HERA is based on the ASTROhead featuring an adapted optics tailored to the requirements of the mission. The Jena space specialists celebrated its maiden flight in 2019 on the Mission Extension Vehicle "MEV" which extends the service life of satellites. The compact HERA camera will be used for navigation and for taking scientific pictures of the asteroid.

Steffen Schwarz adds, “We are very much looking forward to this exciting project with our long-term customer OHB. With this mission we not only want to fly together in the near-earth orbit as we did in the past, but also a fair way beyond that."

The results of the mission will provide valuable data for the so-called AIDA collaboration (short for: Asteroid Impact Deflection Assessment) of the space agencies ESA and NASA. This contributes to protect life on Earth from the danger of asteroid impacts from space.

With a wide range of applications reaching from navigation and image recording to the detection of threats in space ("Space Situational Awareness"), cameras, star sensors and space optics from Jena are perfectly suited for versatile applications for both manned and unmanned space missions.




Constants enable reliable products, improvement, transfer of experience and visionary technologies


Mitarbeiter der Jena-Optronik Anfang 1990er jahre und 2021 mit dem Prototypen des RVS Sensors

Our colleague Torsten with our ARP-RVS then and now


The origins of our RVS for MEV-2 and future moon or mars missions go back to the early 1990s.


After ist maiden flight on the first Europaen ATV „Jules Verne“ and the successful dDocking to the International Space Station ISS our lidar was used on the American Cygnus as well as the Japanese HTV (H-2 Transfer Vehicle). Our customer MELCO, who was the main contractor for the HTV, published impressions from the beginning of the project: link to the Japanese article.



As science fiction became reality… 36.000 km above Earth


Northrop Grumman’s “Mission Extension Vehicle-1” (MEV-1) had its historic docking with the Intelsat 901 (IS-901) spacecraft on February 25, 2020. Now, MEV-2 successfully docked with the Intelsat IS-1002 satellite, again with space technology from Jena.


The Mission Extension Vehicle-2 (MEV-2), manufactured by Northrop Grumman for SpaceLogistics, a wholly owned subsidiary of Northrop Grumman, launched on August 15, 2020. Sensors for the docking and un-docking of MEV-2 are again supplied by Jena-Optronik GmbH.


The Jena team supplied systems consist of the Rendezvous- and Docking Sensor RVS®3000-3D and the RVS®cam (VSS - Visual Sensor Suite) camera system as well as the flight-proven ASTRO® APS star sensors.


“The MEV Mission is so far absolutely unique. Every young engineer dreams to be part of something exciting. Something to tell your grandchildren. To design and qualify a LIDAR for the MEV mission was that experience to me”, Christoph Schmitt, Project Manager RVS3000-3D at Jena-Optronik. “Our mission was to develop a sensor that could identify and track a satellite that was not designed for the purpose of docking. The LIDAR needs to operate reliably for 15 years in a very harsh GEO environment under the influence of heavy radiation and still be able to generate high-resolution 3D images (point clouds) of a satellite. We also needed to design and implement from scratch, very sophisticated image processing algorithms to calculate the position and attitude of the target satellite. The combination of both sensors and algorithms, assists the MEV to safely approach and dock to its clients. To see the new sensor generation actually performing in space against the first target satellite Intelsat IS-901 was definitely a ’to-tell-your-grandchildren-moment.’”   


Same scene - different view


The left image shows IS-901 in front of the Earth in its geostationary orbit. The right hand side is an overlay image of several returns from our RVS3000-3D – comparison points – with the fitted CAD model of IS-901. The image demonstrates what happens inside of the intelligent RVS3000-3D Sensor.


(c) Northrop Grumman - MEV-01 und Satellit IS-901

Real image of IS-901 in orbit (left): seen by Jena-Optronik's VSS on MEV-1

Scan and pose visualization of the satellite from RVS3000-3D (right)

Pictures © Northrop Grumman


Diversity of future space robotics missions


For future missions, like on-orbit servicing, space debris removal or planetary landing, a powerful 3D imaging LIDAR system is required (LIDAR: light detection and ranging). In addition, the application of advanced image processing techniques will be essential in order to safely operate a spacecraft relative to a space object that was not prepared for servicing. Jena-Optronik’s new 3D LIDAR called RVS3000-3D represents a solution to both challenges via the combination of a high resolution scanning LIDAR with robust pose estimation algorithms.


“The most fascinating part of this mission is that many of the team members from the RVS3000 team were back in school at the time that the GEO satellite we are docking to was designed. Try to imagine how they did all the drawings and analysis at that time. There is no CAD model – all we have is photographs taken during satellite integration. How it looks like after many years in orbit is another unknown.  Today we are going to dock to it.  Sounds crazy, even though it all happens right above our heads!” explains Dr. Reinhard Berger, head of Projects and Programs at Jena-Optronik GmbH. ”In the close future, missions that are even more complex are foreseen and possible. What they called science fiction in 1990 is now reality and what we call science fiction right now will be possible very soon! This is not the only thing, which is happening in space right now, we are even looking out to land and stay on the moon and further to Mars.”


A rendezvous in space: heritage


LIDAR activities at Jena-Optronik started in the 1990s with an ESA project delivering the first prototype rendezvous- and docking sensor, RVS. The first RVS was used on two flights to the Russian space station MIR on board the NASA Space Shuttle missions STS-84 and STS-86.


Answering the demands for unmanned supply missions to the International Space Station (ISS), Jena-Optronik’s team took the next step and designed, built and qualified the final flight hardware rendezvous- and docking sensor RVS for the use within European, Japanese and US transfer vehicles to the ISS.


For future applications, like on-orbit servicing or planetary landing, a more powerful 3D imaging LIDAR system was required. The concept for a new powerful, yet compact and cost-effective LIDAR system was developed to both replace the legacy RVS sensor and enable additional mission scenarios: the RVS3000 product family.


The RVS3000 product family consists of the RVS3000 and RVS3000-3D. The additional capabilities that come with the RVS3000-3D variant ensure the autonomously identification of structures and are the enabler for missions like MEV or future landing mission on Moon, Mars, and other celestial bodies. The systems are designed as a Time-of-Flight scanning LIDAR – the same concept as successfully used in the previous projects. For the design of RVS3000 and RVS3000-3D, a modular approach is followed with both sensor versions sharing the same mechanical design and footprint.



Muli-spectral imager MKF-6


Tradition and future: For decades now we’ve been making space missions possible. The roots of our activities for the Sentinel satellites go back to the multi-spectral imager MKF-6.


Launched on  September 12th,1976 MKF-6 was first used in space on board the Soyuz 22 spacecraft. It allowed six different multi-spectral ranges of light to be captured on special, highly-sensitive black-and-white film, an innovation back then, and produced the first detailed images of our home planet.


It was this multi-spectral camera used to observe the earth, alongside the first autonomous star sensors, that represented the initial knowledge of the team who would later found Jena-Optronik GmbH in 1991.


Bild Collage Sentinel-4 Beiträg aus Jena


Detailed view from space


Detecting things on Earth as small as 8 kilometers from orbit at an altitude of 36,000 kilometers? This is what the latest European Meteosat Third Generation Sounder satellite (Meteosat Third Generation, MTG for short) is capable of while on the European Copernicus program’s Sentinel-4 mission. With eyesight like that, one could decipher the last line of letters on a typical eye test poster from across a football stadium. Jena-Optronik GmbH, a company from Thuringia, builds the optics and electronics involved. To make Sentinel-4 possible, the Jena experts have developed two innovative procedures.

Jena-Optronik is contributing several optical systems to Sentinel-4, including a telescope and two spectrometers that capture high-resolution images of our planet Earth. These optics work in principle like their terrestrial counterparts: in an objective, different lenses are arranged one behind the other to focus the light, ultimately creating sharp images. However, the conditions under which the lenses operate in space are much more demanding than on Earth. Jena-Optronik has


Bild Collage Sentinel-4 Beiträg aus Jena

Stable despite increased mechanical loads:


One is called clamping, a process for assembling the objectives. The challenge? On rockets, especially during launch, the objective is exposed to extremely high loads. These usually cause the lens holders inside the objective housing to bend or lose their alignment to each other. This causes the optics to fall out of focus and the whole instrument to become unusable. Jena-Optronik has therefore developed a special clamping system and mechanical holders for the lenses. During the assembly of the lenses into the tube, a pressure of one ton is generated. This ultimately leads to the final adjustment and securing of the correct spacing of the lenses. All the lenses are fixed by pressure, so to speak, and thus prepared for the high accelerations and loads during rocket launch. 

Sharp images despite temperature fluctuations:


For an objective to be able to fulfill its task in space, Jena-Optronik has also developed a process that goes by the unwieldy name of passive athermalization. Background: A geostationary satellite is exposed to regular temperature fluctuations, changing according to whether it is flying in the Earth's shadow or is exposed to full sunlight. This causes its materials to expand and contract. In an objective, this would change the distances between the lenses and thus the focus continuously, which must not happen. Even deviations in the µm range, around 0.001 millimeters, would lead to blurred images. In order to prevent this, so far the distances between lenses have been actively readjusted, for example using software and motor-driven actuators. This process is as complex as it is error-prone, requiring additional electronics and sensors. Jena-Optronik has now developed a lens mount in which each lens has a two-part mount ring that automatically counteracts any deformation resulting from temperature changes. In this way, temperature fluctuations can be compensated for without the need for a power source or an additional drive mechanism.


Jena-Optronik has developed both technologies on behalf of Airbus Defence & Space and the European Space Agency ESA. They are expected to be deployed on the latest MTG satellite in the Sentinel-4 mission starting in 2023. This will then monitor the Earth's atmosphere as part of the European Copernicus Earth observation program, collecting valuable data on greenhouse gases, air quality and ozone formation, among other things. This will further improve the already highly accurate predictions of climate change and enable comprehensive protective measures to be taken.


This article has been produced with the financial assistance of the European Union. The views expressed herein can in no way be taken to reflect the official opinion of the European Union or ESA.


HRSC for MarsExpress


A reunion with Mars: Technology developed by Jena-Optronik has been orbiting the red planet already since 2003 as part of ESA's MarsExpress mission. We delivered space optics for the HRSC high-resolution stereo camera and the SRC stereo camera.


Bild Collage der ESA Mission Mars Express


Return ticket booked: From Earth to Mars and back again


Star sensors from Jena lead the way to the red planet.


Three ASTRO® APS star sensors (star trackers) from Jena-Optronik GmbH have been selected for the "Mars Sample Return - Earth Return Orbiter" (MSR-ERO for short) mission and will be supporting this fascinating project. The reliability and excellent performance of the ASTRO APS were key factors in the selection process by Airbus Defence and Space in France.


Mars Sample Return is a joint mission between the U.S. space agency NASA and the European Space Agency ESA. The Earth Return Orbiter is one of three mission elements for which Airbus Defence and Space in Toulouse was selected as prime contractor by ESA. The ambitious goal is to bring samples from Mars back to Earth for the first time. Three consecutive missions will be implemented to fulfill this challenging task. Mission components, which are manufactured to the highest quality and cutting-edge technology are crucial for the project’s success.


The ASTRO APS is the world’s most successful and extensively used high-reliability satellite attitude orbit control sensor. For several decades, star sensors from Jena have been successfully used on a large number of satellites, such as for Earth observation and telecommunications. They will also fly on the new manned ORION spacecraft.


Its proven reliability as well as its compact design and low power consumption led to the selection of the ASTRO APS from Jena-Optronik for the position control of the Earth Return Orbiter. The high resistance to the harsh cosmic radiation as well as to the extreme environmental conditions in space are additional advantages for the Martian round trip.


A reunion with Mars:

Technology developed by Jena-Optronik has been orbiting the red planet already since 2003 as part of the MarsExpress mission. The specialists at Jena-Optronik have delivered space optics for the HRSC high-resolution stereo camera and the SRC stereo camera. The HRSC and SRC lens systems are the eyes of this ESA Mission.

Go back