why is Malin Space Systems the sole source for cameras?

Space surveillance satellites use far more sophisticated tech and are better funded. like Hubble, older military hardware could be used by NASA (like aircraft are) and refurbished. How did Malin get the monopoly on image processing

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    $\begingroup$ Citation needed that MSS is the 'sole source for cameras'. $\endgroup$ May 1, 2021 at 13:43
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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Space SE! Is your question about sourcing cameras, or image processing? There could be a good question here somewhere (use of contractors for sourcing subsystems, saving money by using military surplus?) but it should support its premises and stick to a single topic. Potential sources include msss.com and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malin_Space_Science_Systems and sandiegouniontribune.com/business/story/2020-07-25/… Consider adding them or similar? $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    May 1, 2021 at 14:30
  • $\begingroup$ You mentioned Hubble in your question. Malin Space Sciences had no role in the Hubble. $\endgroup$ May 1, 2021 at 18:31

1 Answer 1


[This is perhaps a long comment, but it's too long for that and is, I think, adequately sourced to be an answer, so.]

This question is predicated on a falsehood: while Malin Space Systems does make and operate a good number of cameras for NASA – which is unsurprising since it was set up by an astronomer to make and operate camera systems for spacecraft – it is by no means the only supplier. As a single example, the LORRI (PDF link) instrument on New Horizons was

designed and fabricated by a combined effort of The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU/APL) and SSG Precision Optronics Incorporated (SSG).

Malin Space Systems are not in that list. LORRI was one of the camera systems that gave us all those amazing images of Pluto. The other was Ralph (PDF link), which

is a joint effort of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI, San Antonio, TX and Boulder, CO which is the home institution of Alan Stern, the Ralph Principal Investigator), Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. (BATC, Boulder, CO) and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC, Greenbelt, MD).

Again, Malin Space Systems are not in that list.

So it is simply false that Malin Space Systems are the sole source of cameras to NASA. Again, they probably do make and operate quite a lot of camera systems for spacecraft flown by NASA (and other space agencies I expect, and, perhaps, the military as well), because they are probably rather good at what they do, but they are not the sole source.

Although we can't know this for certain, it is also almost certainly false that 'Space surveillance satellites use far more sophisticated tech': people often believe that there is secret super military technology which is much better than anything known in public but which, somehow, we never get to see, and that belief is almost always false. The military work within the same technical constraints as everyone else, and the systems they end up with are not infused with magic: they may be designed to meet unusual requirements, but those requirements probably will not include 'will work on Mars for ten years' or 'will work in the outer Solar system after spending a good number of years getting there'.

For the avoidance of doubt I am not associated in any way with either NASA or Malin Space Systems.

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    $\begingroup$ I think part of the perception is because MSSS have been involved in supplying space cameras to mainly the Mars program since the late 1990s and NASA's Mars Exploration program tends to be the most publicly visible of the robotic exploration programs. $\endgroup$ May 1, 2021 at 16:46

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