During the lifecycle of the biggest fusion device, engineers will need to replace and repair a number of its components. In parallel, they will need to monitor their operation and to be able to see what is happening inside and around the machine. The massive chamber where the in-vessel components are housed will only be accessed remotely with the help of man-in-the-loop robotics. In spite of the machine's impressive size, there is not much available space particularly in areas where cooling water pipes will require cutting and welding. Therefore the "eyes" of the Remote Handling systems need to be tiny, sharp and resilient to the levels of radiation that they will be exposed to.
Currently, there are no cameras off the shelf that tick all boxes required for ITER. They are either too big or cannot sustain the harsh conditions of the In-Vessel environment. Therefore, the only option for F4E and its industrial partners was to develop a camera that could do the job. Veolia Nuclear Solutions (UK) has developed two chips, building on know-how by ISAE SUPAERO (France), which responds well to levels of radiation up to 1 MGy and would allow building a prototype camera system. However, due to space limitations of the Remote Handling devices, engineers will need to keep cabling to a minimum. Hence the need for a multiplexer chip, which in simple words can be described as a compact signal transmitter able to reduce cabling, currently designed by MAGICS Instruments (Belgium). Once this third chip is ready by the end of 2021, then all three chips will be assembled to form the next generation camera prototype. They will have to communicate in a flawless manner, and following further tests, the era of industrial production would begin so that they are integrated in the ITER Remote Handling systems.
To reach this point however, F4E will need to test the appetite of the market to invest in this prospect. This will be the next step of F4E's Market Analysis team who will be reaching out to potential manufacturers with the proven-track record in this field with a declared interest in this technology. Laura Mont Casellas and Marco Van Uffelen, working in F4E's Remote Handling programme explain that "…this is an area where ITER has been a push factor to further invest in R&D and to generate new know-how with direct impact in other areas such as deep space missions, fission machines, high energy particles research. The fact that there was no suitable technical solution available out there meant that we had to think out of the box, to capitalise on the skills of research laboratories and companies to help them join forces in order to develop the subsystems of the cameras we need."