For The European Space Agency (ESA) it is vital to master all key technologies for space operations, including Earth observation and Science missions. Although Europe has a very strong legacy in the design and the qualification of CMOS type image sensors; most of these devices were manufactured on other continents, making Europe susceptible to changes in the geo-political situation.

With this in mind, ESA has awarded and funded a contract (TRP contract number 4000116089/16/NL/BJ) to a European industrial consortium, led by Caeleste, with developing a new CMOS Image Sensor entirely designed, manufactured and tested within Europe. A High-Performance CMOS Image Sensor will be developed, aimed at demonstrating the capability to meet future ESA mission requirements (in terms of spectral sensitivity, signal to noise ratio and environmental durability) for scientific space applications.

Caeleste, contributes to the project with over 250 man years of experience with the custom design and realization of CMOS image sensors for various application domains, including space and astronomy applications.

LFoundry, with its wafer fab facility at Avezzano, Italy, is responsible for the manufacturing of the image sensor. LFoundry is able to manufacture sensors that respond to very stringent specifications such as cryogenic environment (at low temperatures – 180 degrees). Since 2006, the Avezzano site has been manufacturing imaging process technologies and products using technology nodes from 180nm down to 90nm technologies on 200mm wafers, including volume copper Back End of Line (BEOL), Back Side Illumination processes (BSI) and extensive testing capabilities.

Airbus Defence and Space will provide its 15 years’ experience in CMOS Image Sensors development for Space Applications and perform a characterization campaign in parallel to the one performed at Caeleste.
“The collaboration with ESA makes us very proud” declares Patrick Henckes, CEO at Caeleste “since we can play a strategic role in shaping the future of Europe’s space capability for image sensors, in accordance with the mission of ESA. Moreover, having LFoundry and Airbus Defence and Space as partners brings in their enormous expertise in this field and this will contribute considerably to the outcome and to the quality of the project”.

Caeleste is a fabless design house focusing on the design of beyond state of the art CMOS image

LFoundry is a leading specialized foundry. Based in Avezzano, Italy and Landshut, Germany, LFoundry is focused on providing access to most advanced analogue manufacturing service with a capacity of >40,000 wafers/month, innovative technology extensions, including volume 90nm and copper manufacturing, a strong emphasis on flexibility and customer partnership. LFoundry is supporting own technology IP for 150nm and 110nm with a large portfolio of process-proven libraries, IP, design tools and reference flows.