Nikon’s Z9 slated to go to the moon in 2026: Digital Photography Review

The Nikon Z9 is going to the moon. NASA has selected the high-end Z9, one of the most complete cameras we’ve ever tested, as the official handheld camera for the Artemis III mission, set to launch in 2026 (give or take), which will put astronauts on the moon for the first time since 1972.

But it won’t be your average Z9 that makes it off-planet. As one might expect, the Z9 will be heavily modified to handle both the rigors of space travel and life on the moon.

Nikon and NASA are redesigning circuitry to prevent cosmic radiation from damaging the camera, and a new grip is being added with special buttons for common controls so astronauts can operate it while wearing gloves. Custom firmware will modify noise reduction, HDR features, menus, file numbering, and more. Several Nikkor Z lenses will also be modified to cope with the surface of the moon.

The end result is a device that NASA calls the HULC (Handheld Universal Lunar Camera). As NASA notes, it’s a huge leap forward from when Apollo astronauts used viewfinderless large-format film cameras that were attached to their spacesuits at chest level.

NASA astronauts Zena Cardman and Drew Feustel practice using an early design of the Handheld Universal Lunar Camera during the Joint Extravehicular Activity and Human Surface Mobility Test Team (JETT) Field Test 3 in Arizona.

NASA / Bill Stafford

The Z9 will head to space aboard the enormous Space Launch System rocket, which will deploy the Orion spacecraft that will make the trip to the moon and back. The capsule will join the SpaceX-designed Starship, which will perform the moon landing. Six-and-a-half days later, Starship will return to space to meet Orion for the journey back to Earth, where it will splash down in the Pacific Ocean.

More details about the Nikon Z9’s trip to space can be found below. Those interested in the mission can visit NASA’s Artemis III website.


Nikon and NASA Collaborating on Handheld Camera Development

MELVILLE, NY (February 29, 2024) – Nikon Inc. has entered into a Space Act agreement with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to support the agency’s Artemis campaign with the Handheld Universal Lunar Camera (HULC) development. The Nikon Z 9, Nikon’s mirrorless full-frame flagship, as implemented in the HULC system, will be the handheld camera for the upcoming Artemis III mission which will be used by the crew returning to the surface of the Moon.

The Artemis campaign is an ambitious and important undertaking for humanity. Artemis will return us to the Moon in order to establish a foundation for long-term scientific lunar research and exploration, eventually leading as a passageway for travel to Mars. Since humankind’s first forays into space, handheld cameras have been used to document the journey, sending back iconic imagery and for research. This Space Act Agreement is a collaboration between NASA and Nikon Inc. to ensure the current state-of-the-art full-frame camera can survive lunar environments while developing an efficient and optimal platform for image and video capture for the mission.

“The opportunity to collaborate with NASA on this endeavor is simply exhilarating yet humbling, as we realize the benefits of this mission have the potential to affect all of mankind in the future,” said Naoki Onozato, President and CEO, Nikon Inc. “As one of the many suppliers and manufacturers collaborating with NASA as part of the Space Act, our aim is to best equip the crew as they bravely bring humanity back to the surface of the Moon, and possibly beyond.”

The Artemis III mission is scheduled to launch NASA’s SLS (Space Launch System) rocket with the agency’s Orion spacecraft in September 2026. The crew’s historic expedition will be the first human landing on the lunar surface since 1972, and this mission will also mark the first time a woman will walk on the Moon. During this 30-day mission, the crew will enter lunar orbit, after which two astronauts will land on the lunar surface in the lunar module (SpaceX’s Starship Human Landing System). After spending approximately seven days on the lunar surface conducting research and multiple Moonwalks, they will return to the Orion spacecraft to join the other two crew members and return to Earth. To help capture imagery, the mission has the need for a common camera platform to reduce overall mass and development efforts while simplifying training and increasing efficiency.

About the Modified Cameras

The Moon surface and lunar environment is a harsh and unforgiving vacuum, which poses multiple technological and engineering challenges. The surface is subject to massive temperature swings, with constant bombardment of cosmic radiation that can damage electrical components. Nikon’s engineers are working closely with NASA to develop solutions to maximize 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 thermal vacuum testing, running various tests and simulations to help ensure that the camera maintains operational status when 238,000 miles away from Earth.

Additionally, the camera will need to be used by astronauts during extravehicular activities (EVAs), which are instances when the crew will be in space or on Moonwalks. In order for astronauts to comfortably and easily use the Z 9 when wearing the thick gloves of a spacesuit, a custom grip is being developed by NASA, which includes 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 specialized 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 optimized for exterior missions. Changes have also been made to the in-camera communication control to simplify the astronaut’s workflow. Additional modifications include shutter shield optimization, enhanced HDR functionality and modified default settings for menu items.

Chronicling History Together

Nikon cameras have been used by NASA and space agencies extensively, most recently with the arrival of unmodified Z 9 camera to the crew of the International Space Station. Since the Apollo 15 mission more than 50 years ago, Nikon cameras and lenses have been used by NASA for space exploration. Starting in 1999, Nikon cameras (Nikon F5) and NIKKOR lenses have been used aboard the ISS to aid in scientific research, maintenance and aiding astronauts capturing iconic images of the Earth, the heavens and beyond.

For more information about the NASA Space Act agreement, and a list of the current Space Act agreements, please visit the website here.

For more information the Z 9, Nikon’s full-frame mirrorless flagship, please visit

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