CNES projects library

November 21, 2023


Since 2015, CNES has been developing an innovative and versatile camera called CASPEX (CAmera for SPace EXploration). Today, CASPEX is operating on satellites in Earth orbit and on space exploration probes. New missions to the Moon, Mars and asteroids are preparing to fly the tiny camera with a promising future that boxes above its weight.

At a time when almost all imaging sensors operating in space were still based on charge-coupled device (CCD) technology, CNES started working in the 2000s on a new complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) technology that has since become pretty much the norm. It is used for example in mobile phone cameras and covers more than 99.9% of the imaging market today.

Leveraging large-scale industrial and commercial developments, today’s CMOS sensors significantly reduce pixel sizes to obtain better resolution without sacrificing signal quality.

But they still had to prove their ability to withstand the harsh temperature and radiation conditions of space, and the mechanical vibration environment of launch.

This has now been accomplished with CASPEX (CAmera for SPace EXploration), for which development work started in 2014 on EyeSat and SuperCam.

Two different versions of CASPEX—12 Mpixels left and 4 Mpixels right—developed by CNES, adaptable to many types of space mission – Credit: CNES/Thierry De Prada


Vast range of applications

The first black-and-white version of CASPEX (4 million pixels) was soon adopted for space operations. Used today in star trackers by Sodern, a subsidiary of ArianeGroup, the cameras are on every satellite in the OneWeb broadband Internet constellation. This version was also used on EyeSat, the first CNES student nanosatellite launched in 2019.

The colour version (RGB) of CASPEX is on the SuperCam instrument that the Perseverance Mars rover has relied on since landing in 2021 to remotely analyse the composition of the red planet’s soil and rocks.

This same colour version was on the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center’s Rashid 1 rover that rode with Japanese firm iSpace’s lander launched on 11 December 2002 atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 to explore the surface of the Moon. This unprecedented private-public partnership was set to put the first ever private lander on a celestial body, but unfortunately the mission crashed into the Moon on 25 April 2023.


Constantly evolving technology

The RGB version of CASPEX was also selected for the rover of the MMX mission scheduled to land on Phobos, one of Mars’ two moons, in late 2024. The rover is designed to explore the surface of the moon.

A more recent multispectral version of CASPEX, capable of distinguishing between 9 and 25 different colours, will be on the Emirati Rashid 2 rover planned to explore one of the Moon’s poles in 2025.

A new and enhanced version of CASPEX—with a resolution of 12 million de pixels, better sensitivity and more image-processing capacity—capable of capturing 4K black-and-white, colour or polarized imagery—has recently been qualified and validated by CNES. It is set to equip a sovereign in-house CNES mission after 2024.

Lastly, even newer versions capable of extending the camera’s vision to the infrared are also in development. One thing is sure: we haven’t heard the last of this gem of French technology.


Learn more





CASPEX : objectif Lune ! (in French)

Credits: CNES - Novembre 2022

CASPEX, une petite caméra aux grands succès (in French)

 CASPEX, vous avez une nouvelle image (in French)


Click here to watch the video (in French)


Other websites

CASPEX on the 3DPlus website

CASPEX on the MBRSC website



  • Cedric Virmontois: Head of detection opto-electronics department - CNES and CASPEX project leader
    E-mail: cedric.virmontois [at]

  • Francis Rocard: Solar system subject matter expert - CNES
    E-mail: francis.rocard [at]