CMOS Image Sensors – Space detectors

Sensors for applications in space

Schematic representation of the Earth's atmosphere
© Fraunhofer IMS
The flight altitude of over 600 km and the speed of satellites place special demands on the image sensors for earth observation.

Fraunhofer IMS develops special space detectors that are designed especially for applications in space. Currently, two applications areas are offered:

Special space detectors, for example CMOS-CCD in TDI operation, are designed for earth observation from the orbit. The focus is on detectors in the focal plane of “small” high-resolution, multispectral optical satellites. These are applied in the following applications:

  • Scanning of urban areas for the generation of current image material from densely populated areas. This material is used especially for city planning.
  • A spontaneous and fast reaction to worldwide crises, for example natural disasters or war/crisis zones is becoming increasingly important. To assess the situation in those areas in a fast and competent way, high resolution images of the defined target areas are needed.
  • For reconnaissance missions a multispectral distinction of objects is of great interest. Especially the wavelength range in the blue to ultraviolet part of the spectrum is important for monitoring of the oceans. This can be increased by backside illumination.


At Fraunhofer IMS an in-house developed CMOS process is used for earth observation application which allows for manufacture of CMOS-CCDs with a high dynamic range that can be used in TDI operation.

Another application area is targeting the navigation in space. Unmanned aerial vehicles, like satellites, drones or roboters have to be able to navigate autonomously. And tasks like docking maneuvers to space stations and satellites have to be carried out as well. Also sensors are to be used for the detection of unwanted satellites, like parts of satellites  or comet residue that orbit around the earth, and the disposal can be carried out efficiently into the earth atmosphere. For these applications high-precision 3D space detectors and robust algorithms are needed to realize a miilimeter precision navigation. For this purpose Fraunhofer IMS has developed special LiDAR sensors on the basis of CMOS SPADs that can rise to the challenge.


For the development of Fraunhofer IMS space detectors, process modules are used that are, with the exception of active optical elements, resistant to radiation and therefore able to withstand the cosmic radiation of space.

This might interest you

Autonomous Driving

Through the development of Flash LiDAR systems, Fraunhofer IMS makes a decisive scientific contribution on the road to autonomous driving.

Quantum Imaging

Fraunhofer IMS develops extremely fast and efficient single photon detectors for images with entangled photons (quantum/ghost imaging).

Surface Inspection

Fraunhofer IMS develops CMOS high speed line sensors with extremely high sensitivity and readout speed with minimal noise.

Industrial Measurement Technology

Fraunhofer IMS develops customer-specific CMOS image sensors with a high resolution and measuring depth for the industrial measurement technology.

Overview Pages

CMOS (Home)

Fraunhofer IMS has the experience and the competences to develop custom-made CMOS image sensors and manufacture them in an 8-inch CMOS line.


Fraunhofer IMS can rely on years of experience and technological expertise in the development and manufacture of optical sensors for numerous applications.

Customer Benefits

As a partner for innovative product developments in the field of optical sensors, Fraunhofer IMS offers everything from a single source: from the initial idea to pilot production.