A sneak peek at the lunar camera destined for the Artemis missions

NASA augmented parts of commercially available and mirror-less cameras to handle the moon’s harsh environment.
Man holding HULC lunar camera in rocky outdoor environment
Artemis astronauts will return to the moon with high-powered cameras like the HULC. ESA–A. Romeo

When humans finally return to the moon as part of NASA’s Artemis program, they’ll arrive with a bevy of high-tech equipment to capture new, awe-inspiring glimpses of Earth’s satellite. But cameras have come a long way since the Apollo missions. In 2023, some incredibly advanced options are already almost moon-ready right off the shelf.

According to a recent update from the European Space Agency, engineers collaborating with NASA are finalizing a Handheld Universal Lunar Camera (HULC) with real-world testing in the rocky, lunar-esque vistas of Lanzarote, Spain. While resilient enough to travel to the moon, HULC’s underpinning tech derives from commercially available professional cameras featuring high light sensitivities and cutting-edge lenses. To strengthen the lunar documentation device, researchers needed to add a blanket casing that is durable enough to protect against ultra-fine moon dust, as well as the moon’s extreme temperature swings ranging between -208 and 250 degrees Fahrenheit. At the same time, the covering can’t impede usage, so designers also created a suite of ergonomic buttons compatible with astronaut spacesuits’ thick gloves.

[Related: Check out this Prada-designed Artemis III spacesuits.]

So far, HULC has snapped shots in near pitch-black volcanic caves, as well as in broad daylight to approximate the lunar surface’s vast spectrum of lighting possibilities. According to the ESA, HULC will also be the first mirrorless handheld camera used in space—such a design reportedly offers quality images in low light scenarios.

Woman using HULC lunar camera in underground cave
Credit: ESA / A. Romeo

Even with the numerous alterations and adjustments, the HULC is still not quite ready for the Artemis III mission, currently scheduled for 2025. The ESA reports that at least one version of the camera will soon travel to the International Space Station for additional testing.

“We will continue modifying the camera as we move towards the Artemis III lunar landing,” Jeremy Myers, NASA lead on the HULC camera project, told the ESA on October 24. “I am positive that we will end up with the best product–a camera that will capture Moon pictures for humankind, used by crews from many countries and for many years to come.”

Images of Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong striding across the lunar surface during the Apollo 11 moonwalk instantly became iconic photographs in 1969, but they were only a preview of many more to come. Over the next three years, 10 more astronauts documented their visits to the moon using an array of video and photographic cameras. When humans finally return as part of the Artemis program, HULC will be in tow to capture new, awe-inspiring glimpses of Earth’s satellite.