NASA goes mirrorless: Nikon Z9 camera is on the International Space Station

NASA goes mirrorless: Nikon Z9 camera is on the International Space Station

International Space Station
NASA/Roscosmos

The International Space Station (ISS) has been equipped with a large array of Nikon Z9 cameras as astronauts there prepare to finally retire the Nikon DSLR cameras that have served as primary systems in orbit for years.

Nikon says 13 Nikon Z9 cameras, 15 FTZ II adapters and more than 15 Nikkor Z lenses (including super-telephoto and macro lenses) were launched to the International Space Station in January aboard Northrop Grumman’s 20th Commercial Resupply Services mission for NASA. . The Cygnus cargo spacecraft, carried on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on January 30, 2024.

The Japanese camera company considers this a landmark achievement for the Nikon Z series, as it will be the first Nikon mirrorless camera used by the space station crew. The cameras replace the existing stock of Nikon D6 and D5 SLR cameras on the ISS (the D5 has been “in service” above Earth since 2017).

Nikon in space
NASA’s first move toward all-digital SLR cameras was made possible by the Nikon NASA D2XS camera, which was used during the Space Shuttle Discovery mission and the International Space Station in 2007. | Nikon

Since the Apollo 15 mission more than 50 years ago, NASA has used Nikon space exploration cameras and lenses on various missions and space shuttles. Beginning in 1999, Nikon F5 cameras and Nikkor lenses have been used aboard the orbiting laboratory to aid scientific research and maintenance and help astronauts capture iconic images of Earth, the sky and beyond. The equipment is used inside the space station, but also in the continuous vacuum of space in a special “blanket” developed by NASA. In 2008, NASA received a D2XS digital SLR camera, and in 2013, 38 Nikon D4 digital SLR cameras and 64 Nikkor lenses were delivered to the space station crew.

It should be noted that cameras shot in space do not have a long shelf life. As astronaut Don Pettit explained Petapixel Last year, the sensors were bombarded with “cosmic rays” and the sensors were damaged, giving them a shelf life of about six months. Hence, the Nikon Z9 cameras launched last month are likely to be replaced by another range this summer.

The dome of the International Space Station
NASA

As also mentioned in that article, Nikon creates custom firmware for space cameras designed to better serve astronauts. This includes extending the noise reduction range to higher shutter speeds to account for the constant bombardment of cosmic radiation to which the crew and equipment are exposed around the space station. Additional changes have been made to the file naming sequence, as well as the default settings and controls that have been optimized for life aboard the orbiting laboratory and when placed in the protective cover for external missions. Changes have also been made to FTP and the in-camera transfer protocol to simplify the astronaut’s workflow, increase efficiency and reduce power consumption when sending images from space to Earth. More information about this process can be read at PetapixelPrevious coverage.

International Space Station
NASA

“Nikon firmly believes in NASA’s mission of space exploration and pioneering research, and we will continue to work closely with the space agency to ensure it is properly equipped,” says Naoki Onozato, President and CEO of Nikon Inc.. “The brave crew has to endure the rigors of space exploration, but we want to help make sure they don’t have to worry about their camera equipment.”

NASA has worked with Nikon for a long time, dating back to 1971 when a custom Nikon Photomic FTN was used on the Apollo 15 mission. In 2017, NASA ordered a batch of 53 Nikon D5 DSLR cameras for the International Space Station. Going forward, expect this to be the Z9 – at least until Nikon makes a new flagship.

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