A heavily modified version of the Nikon Z 9 has been selected as the official handheld camera for the upcoming Artemis III mission, which is scheduled to launch in September 2026.

The Nikon Z 9 has been selected as the handheld camera for use by astronauts on the Artemis III campaign to return humans to the Moon. (Sources: NASA and Nikon.)

This comes as a result of an agreement between Nikon Corporation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to support the agency’s Artemis campaign with Handheld Universal Lunar Camera (HULC) development. Nikon’s engineers are working closely with NASA to develop solutions for maximum reliability when operating under this kind of extreme environment, including the redesign of various circuits and control sequences within the camera to withstand the vast amounts of radiation. Support will also be given for vacuum thermal testing, running various tests and simulations to help ensure that the camera maintains operational status when about 383,000 kilometres from Earth.   The camera will be used by astronauts during extravehicular activities (EVA), which are instances when the crew will be in space or on moonwalks and a custom grip is being developed by NASA to make the camera usable by astronauts wearing thick gloves. Astronauts will require access to common controls such as a shutter release, playback, still/video capture switching and more. This grip will connect to the camera via the 10-pin terminal, which will be usable with specialised custom firmware created for the cameras. To protect the camera, lens and housing during EVA, a special “thermal blanket” will be created by NASA, which is similar to those currently used during exterior spacewalks by International Space Station astronauts. A selection of Nikkor Z lenses will also be used for the mission, and those that will be actively used on the Moon will be modified to withstand the harsh lunar environment.

Like the cameras used by the Space Station crew, the firmware will also be specially modified for this mission. These modifications include accounting for the different circuitry, expanding noise reduction to lower shutter speeds to account for the effects of constant bombardment of cosmic radiation that the crew and gear encounter. Additional changes have been made to the file naming sequence, as well as default settings and controls that are optimised for exterior missions. Changes have also been made to the in-camera communication control to simplify the astronaut’s workflow and reduce power consumption when sending images from space to Earth. Additional modifications include shutter shield optimisation, enhanced HDR functionality and modified default settings for menu items.

Details of NASA’s Artemis III exhibition can be found here.