Tag Archives: #rover

Touchdown! NASA’s Mars Perseverance Rover Safely Lands on Red Planet (Planetary Science)

The largest, most advanced rover NASA has sent to another world touched down on Mars Thursday, after a 203-day journey traversing 293 million miles (472 million kilometers). Confirmation of the successful touchdown was announced in mission control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California at 3:55 p.m. EST (12:55 p.m. PST).

Packed with groundbreaking technology, the Mars 2020 mission launched July 30, 2020, from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The Perseverance rover mission marks an ambitious first step in the effort to collect Mars samples and return them to Earth.  

“This landing is one of those pivotal moments for NASA, the United States, and space exploration globally – when we know we are on the cusp of discovery and sharpening our pencils, so to speak, to rewrite the textbooks,” said acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk. “The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission embodies our nation’s spirit of persevering even in the most challenging of situations, inspiring, and advancing science and exploration. The mission itself personifies the human ideal of persevering toward the future and will help us prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.”

About the size of a car, the 2,263-pound (1,026-kilogram) robotic geologist and astrobiologist will undergo several weeks of testing before it begins its two-year science investigation of Mars’ Jezero Crater. While the rover will investigate the rock and sediment of Jezero’s ancient lakebed and river delta to characterize the region’s geology and past climate, a fundamental part of its mission is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. To that end, the Mars Sample Return campaign, being planned by NASA and ESA (European Space Agency), will allow scientists on Earth to study samples collected by Perseverance to search for definitive signs of past life using instruments too large and complex to send to the Red Planet.

“Because of today’s exciting events, the first pristine samples from carefully documented locations on another planet are another step closer to being returned to Earth,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA. “Perseverance is the first step in bringing back rock and regolith from Mars. We don’t know what these pristine samples from Mars will tell us. But what they could tell us is monumental – including that life might have once existed beyond Earth.”

Some 28 miles (45 kilometers) wide, Jezero Crater sits on the western edge of Isidis Planitia, a giant impact basin just north of the Martian equator. Scientists have determined that 3.5 billion years ago the crater had its own river delta and was filled with water.

The power system that provides electricity and heat for Perseverance through its exploration of Jezero Crater is a Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator, or MMRTG. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) provided it to NASA through an ongoing partnership to develop power systems for civil space applications.

Equipped with seven primary science instruments, the most cameras ever sent to Mars, and its exquisitely complex sample caching system – the first of its kind sent into space – Perseverance will scour the Jezero region for fossilized remains of ancient microscopic Martian life, taking samples along the way.  

“Perseverance is the most sophisticated robotic geologist ever made, but verifying that microscopic life once existed carries an enormous burden of proof,” said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division. “While we’ll learn a lot with the great instruments we have aboard the rover, it may very well require the far more capable laboratories and instruments back here on Earth to tell us whether our samples carry evidence that Mars once harbored life.”

Paving the Way for Human Missions

“Landing on Mars is always an incredibly difficult task and we are proud to continue building on our past success,” said JPL Director Michael Watkins. “But, while Perseverance advances that success, this rover is also blazing its own path and daring new challenges in the surface mission. We built the rover not just to land but to find and collect the best scientific samples for return to Earth, and its incredibly complex sampling system and autonomy not only enable that mission, they set the stage for future robotic and crewed missions.”

The Mars Entry, Descent, and Landing Instrumentation 2 (MEDLI2) sensor suite collected data about Mars’ atmosphere during entry, and the Terrain-Relative Navigation system autonomously guided the spacecraft during final descent. The data from both are expected to help future human missions land on other worlds more safely and with larger payloads.

On the surface of Mars, Perseverance’s science instruments will have an opportunity to scientifically shine. Mastcam-Z is a pair of zoomable science cameras on Perseverance’s remote sensing mast, or head, that creates high-resolution, color 3D panoramas of the Martian landscape. Also located on the mast, the SuperCam uses a pulsed laser to study the chemistry of rocks and sediment and has its own microphone to help scientists better understand the property of the rocks, including their hardness.

Located on a turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm, the Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL) and the Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals (SHERLOC) instruments will work together to collect data on Mars’ geology close-up. PIXL will use an X-ray beam and suite of sensors to delve into a rock’s elemental chemistry. SHERLOC’s ultraviolet laser and spectrometer, along with its Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering (WATSON) imager, will study rock surfaces, mapping out the presence of certain minerals and organic molecules, which are the carbon-based building blocks of life on Earth.

The rover chassis is home to three science instruments, as well. The Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Experiment (RIMFAX) is the first ground-penetrating radar on the surface of Mars and will be used to determine how different layers of the Martian surface formed over time. The data could help pave the way for future sensors that hunt for subsurface water ice deposits.

Also with an eye on future Red Planet explorations, the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) technology demonstration will attempt to manufacture oxygen out of thin air – the Red Planet’s tenuous and mostly carbon dioxide atmosphere. The rover’s Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA) instrument, which has sensors on the mast and chassis, will provide key information about present-day Mars weather, climate, and dust.

Currently attached to the belly of Perseverance, the diminutive Ingenuity Mars Helicopter is a technology demonstration that will attempt the first powered, controlled flight on another planet.

Project engineers and scientists will now put Perseverance through its paces, testing every instrument, subsystem, and subroutine over the next month or two. Only then will they deploy the helicopter to the surface for the flight test phase. If successful, Ingenuity could add an aerial dimension to exploration of the Red Planet in which such helicopters serve as a scouts or make deliveries for future astronauts away from their base.

Once Ingenuity’s test flights are complete, the rover’s search for evidence of ancient microbial life will begin in earnest.

“Perseverance is more than a rover, and more than this amazing collection of men and women that built it and got us here,” said John McNamee, project manager of the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover mission at JPL. “It is even more than the 10.9 million people who signed up to be part of our mission. This mission is about what humans can achieve when they persevere. We made it this far. Now, watch us go.”

More About the Mission

A primary objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology research, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith, paving the way for human exploration of the Red Planet.

Subsequent NASA missions, in cooperation with ESA, will send spacecraft to Mars to collect these cached samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.

The Mars 2020 Perseverance mission is part of NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration approach, which includes Artemis missions to the Moon that will help prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet.

JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the Mars 2020 Perseverance mission and the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter technology demonstration for NASA.

For more about Perseverance:




Featured image: Members of NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover team watch in mission control as the first images arrive moments after the spacecraft successfully touched down on Mars, Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. A key objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will characterize the planet’s geology and past climate, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith. Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Provided by NASA

Entering the Martian Atmosphere with the Perseverance Rover (Planetary Science)

With its heat shield facing the planet, NASA’s Perseverance rover begins its descent through the Martian atmosphere in this illustration. Hundreds of critical events must execute perfectly and exactly on time for the rover to land on Mars safely on Feb. 18, 2021.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Entry, Descent, and Landing, or “EDL,” begins when the spacecraft reaches the top of the Martian atmosphere, travelling nearly 12,500 mph (20,000 kph).

The aeroshell, which encloses the rover and descent stage, makes the trip to the surface on its own. The vehicle fires small thrusters on the backshell to reorient itself and make sure the heat shield is facing forward as it plunges into the atmosphere.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California built and will manage operations of the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover for NASA.

For more information about the mission, go to: https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020.

Provided by NASA

CMU’s MoonRanger Will Search for Water at Moon’s South Pole (Planetary Science)

MoonRanger, a small robotic rover being developed by Carnegie Mellon University and its spinoff Astrobotic, has completed its preliminary design review in preparation for a 2022 mission to search for signs of water at the moon’s south pole.

Whether buried ice exists in useful amounts is one of the most pressing questions in lunar exploration, and MoonRanger will be the first to seek evidence of it on the ground. If found in sufficient concentration at accessible locations, ice might be the most valuable resource in the solar system, said William “Red” Whittaker, University Founders Research Professor in the Robotics Institute.

“Water is key to human presence on and use of the moon,” explained Whittaker, who is leading development of MoonRanger. “Space agencies around the world are intent on investigating it.”

Whittaker and his team first approached NASA about using robots to search for lunar ice in 1996, and they will fulfill that vision a quarter century later by landing in 2022.

“This hasn’t been quick or easy,” Whittaker said. “It is stunning that after these many years we will have the first look.”

NASA will follow MoonRanger at a later date with its more capable Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER), which will perform more rigorous and sustained exploration and scientific characterization of the ice.

MoonRanger has completed its preliminary design review in advance of a 2022 mission to search for signs of water at the moon’s south pole.

Video: MoonRanger, a small robotic rover being developed by CMU and its spinoff Astrobotic, has completed its preliminary design review in preparation for a 2022 mission to search for signs of water at the moon’s south pole.

MoonRanger’s lander will be the Masten Space Systems’ XL-1, supported by the NASA Commercial Lunar Payload Services program. The rover will be one of eight science and technology payloads, which are supported by the NASA Lunar Surface Instrument and Technology Payloads program.

The space agency said the payloads support its Artemis program, which aims to return U.S. astronauts to the moon in the coming years.

Last month, reviewers determined the viability of the design for the rover and its mission. Lydia Schweitzer, a master’s student in computational design who led the systems engineering team, said the two-day review involved more than 60 people — including veterans of the Apollo program and Mars rover project — who provided important suggestions and feedback.

Schweitzer said the project involved a dozen faculty and staff members, as well as at least 90 students, including three semesters of enrollees in Whittaker’s project course. Disciplines represented on the team comprise engineering, robotics, computer science, software engineering, human-computer interaction, architecture and design. The team also has taken advantage of a network of CMU alumni with expertise in space robotics to solve problems and optimize the rover’s design.

Even as MoonRanger takes shape, Whittaker and another student team continue to prepare for a 2021 mission in which a four-pound CMU rover called Iris and a CMU art package called MoonArk will travel to the moon on Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander.

MoonRanger features a number of technical innovations. About the size of a suitcase, it is designed to repeatedly explore at the rate of 1,000 meters per Earth day in both sunlit and dark conditions — unprecedented speed for a planetary rover. By contrast, a Chinese robot now on the far side of the moon has averaged less than a meter per Earth day.

Unlike other rovers, MoonRanger doesn’t carry isotope heating, so its battery and electronics will fail when night falls and cryogenic temperatures set in. Hence, the robot must accomplish its mission in less than the 14 sunlit Earth-days of the lunar month. It also is light and can’t carry a big radio for communicating directly with Earth. It thus must return to the lander, with which it will establish short-range wireless communication so the lander’s radio can relay the robot’s findings to Earth.

“MoonRanger is going to be on its own for long periods of time,” said David Wettergreen, research professor of robotics and co-investigator for the rover project, noting the rover will be out of touch with controllers on Earth as it does its explorations.

The mission was originally designed to demonstrate the capability of the rover. But NASA expanded it this spring to include the search for ice by adding its Neutron Spectrometer System (NSS) to MoonRanger. The NSS, developed by NASA Ames Research Center, measures the amount of hydrogen in the upper layer of the moon’s soil, called regolith. Hydrogen abundance is correlated with the concentration of buried water ice. The NSS will be along for the ride, “ticking like a Geiger counter” when the rover passes over buried ice, then falling silent in bone-dry areas, Whittaker said.

The rover’s solar array is oriented vertically to capture the low sun angles experienced at the pole. The low sun also means that craters and dips cast deep, pitch-black shadows. The rover, therefore, will need to sense and navigate through darkness — another first. Since LIDAR sensors used commonly by Earth robots aren’t yet available for small space rovers, MoonRanger achieves night vision by projecting laser line stripes ahead of it to model the darkened terrain, much as stereo cameras do in sunlight.

Once it lands on the moon, MoonRanger will evaluate its driving, navigation and mapping capabilities in short jaunts near the lander. It will then attempt a series of distant treks to seek ice.

“If we could make a one-kilometer trek, we’d be very happy,” Wettergreen said. “If we could do it twice, that would be amazing.”

Uncertainty is inescapable for a mission as ambitious as MoonRanger, Whittaker said.

“In the face of that, there is only the question of whether to do it anyway,” he added. “This has all the elements of purpose, technology, exploration, science and fulfillment of vision. These leave no question about going for it and giving it our all.”

Provided by Carnegie Mellon University

NASA’s New Mars Rover Is Ready for Space Lasers (Planetary Science)

When the Apollo astronauts landed on the Moon, they brought devices with them called retroreflectors, which are essentially small arrays of mirrors. The plan was for scientists on Earth to aim lasers at them and calculate the time it took for the beams to return. This provided exceptionally precise measurements of the Moon’s orbit and shape, including how it changed slightly based on Earth’s gravitational pull.

Visible near the center of NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover in this illustration is the palm-size dome called the Laser Retroreflector Array (LaRA). In the distant future, laser-equipped Mars orbiters could use such a reflector for scientific studies. Perseverance was built and is operated by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California. The retroreflector was provided by Italy’s National Institute for Nuclear Physics, which built the instrument on behalf of the Italian Space Agency. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Research with these Apollo-era lunar retroreflectors continues to this day, and scientists want to perform similar experiments on Mars. NASA’s Perseverance rover – scheduled to land on the Red Planet on Feb. 18, 2021 – carries the palm-size Laser Retroreflector Array (LaRA). There’s also small one aboard the agency’s InSight lander, called Laser Retroreflector for InSight (LaRRI). And a retroreflector will be aboard the ESA (European Space Agency) ExoMars rover that launches in 2022.

While there is currently no laser in the works for this sort of Mars research, the devices are geared toward the future: Reflectors like these could one day enable scientists conducting what is called laser-ranging research to measure the position of a rover on the Martian surface, test Einstein’s theory of general relativity, and help make future landings on the Red Planet more precise.

“Laser retroreflectors are shiny, pointlike position markers,” said Simone Dell’Agnello, who led development of all three retroreflectors at Italy’s National Institute for Nuclear Physics, which built the devices on behalf of the Italian Space Agency. “Because they’re simple and maintenance-free, they can work for decades.”

A Box of Mirrors

The devices work a lot like a bike reflector, bouncing light back in the direction of its source. Perseverance’s LaRA, for example, is a 2-inch-wide (5-centimeter-wide) dome speckled with half-inch holes containing glass cells. In each cell, three mirrored faces are positioned at 90-degree angles from one another so that light entering the holes is directed back out at exactly the same direction it came from.

LaRA is much smaller than the retroreflectors on the Moon. The earliest ones, delivered by the Apollo 11 and 14 missions, are about the size of typical computer monitor and embedded with 100 reflectors; the ones delivered by Apollo 15 are even larger and embedded with 300 reflectors. That’s because the lasers have to travel as much as 478,000 miles (770,000 kilometers) to the Moon and back. By the return trip, the beams are so faint, they can’t be detected by the human eye.

The beams that Perseverance’s LaRA and InSight’s LaRRI were built to reflect would actually have a far shorter journey, despite Mars being some 249 million miles (401 million kilometers) away at its farthest point from Earth. Rather than traveling back and forth from Earth, which would require enormous retroreflectors, the laser beams would just need to travel back and forth from a future Mars orbiter equipped with an appropriate laser.

Illuminating Science

Such an orbiter could determine the precise position of a retroreflector on the Martian surface. And since Perseverance will be mobile, it could provide multiple points of reference. Meanwhile, the orbiter’s position would also be tracked from Earth. This would allow scientists to test Einstein’s theory of general relativity, as they have with retroreflectors on the Moon. Each planet’s orbit is greatly influenced by the bend in space-time created by the Sun’s large mass.

A close-up view, taken on Feb. 5, 1971, of the Laser Ranging Retro-Reflector (LR3), which the Apollo 14 astronauts deployed on the Moon during their lunar surface extravehicular activity. Credit: NASA

“This kind of science is important for understanding how gravity shapes our solar system, the whole universe, and ultimately the roles of dark matter and dark energy,” Dell’Agnello noted.

In the case of the InSight lander, which touched down on Nov. 26, 2018, laser-ranging science could also aid the spacecraft’s core mission of studying Mars’ deep interior. InSight relies on a radio instrument to detect subtle differences in the planet’s rotation. In learning from the instrument how the planet wobbles over time, scientists may finally determine whether Mars’ core is liquid or solid.

And if the science team were able to use the lander’s retroreflector, they could get even more precise positioning data than InSight’s radio provides. LaRRI could also detect how the terrain InSight sits on shifts over time and in what direction, revealing how the Martian crust expands or contracts.

Better Landings on Mars

Mars landings are hard. To help get Perseverance safely to the surface, the mission will rely on Terrain-Relative Navigation, a new technology that compares images taken during descent to an onboard map. If the spacecraft sees itself getting too close to danger (like a cliffside or sand dunes), it can veer away.

But in such a mission-critical event, you can never have too many backups. Future missions barreling toward the surface of the Red Planet could use the series of reference points from laser retroreflectors as a check on the performance of their Terrain Relative Navigation systems – and perhaps even boost their accuracy down to a few centimeters. When the difference between successfully landing near an enticing geological formation or slipping down the steep slope of a crater wall can be measured in mere feet, retroreflectors might be critical.

“Laser ranging could open up new kinds of Mars exploration,” Dell’Agnello said.

More About the Mission

A key objective for Perseverance’s mission on Mars is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. The rover will also characterize the planet’s climate and geology, pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet, and be the first planetary mission to collect and cache Martian rock and regolith (broken rock and dust). Subsequent missions, currently under consideration by NASA in cooperation with the European Space Agency, would send spacecraft to Mars to collect these cached samples from the surface and return them to Earth for in-depth analysis.

Managed for NASA by JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover is part of a larger program that includes missions to the Moon as a way to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet. Charged with returning astronauts to the Moon by 2024, NASA will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028 through NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration plans.

Provided by JPL-NASA

Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Recharges Its Batteries In Flight (Astronomy / Electronic Engineering)

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter received a checkout and recharge of its power system on Friday, Aug. 7, one week into its near seven-month journey to Mars with the Perseverance rover. This marks the first time the helicopter has been powered up and its batteries have been charged in the space environment.

Fig: NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter stands on the Red Planet’s surface as NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover (partially visible on the left) rolls away. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

During the eight-hour operation, the performance of the rotorcraft’s six lithium-ion batteries was analyzed as the team brought their charge level up to 35%. The project has determined a low charge state is optimal for battery health during the cruise to Mars.

According to Tim Canham, the operations lead for Mars Helicopter at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, this was a big milestone, as it was their first opportunity to turn on Ingenuity and give its electronics a ‘test drive’ since they launched on July 30.

The 4-pound (2-kilogram) helicopter—a combination of specially designed components and off-the-shelf parts—is currently stowed on Perseverance’s belly and receives its charge from the rover’s power supply. Once Ingenuity is deployed on Mars’ surface after Perseverance touches down, its batteries will be charged solely by the helicopter’s own solar panel. If Ingenuity survives the cold Martian nights during its preflight checkout, the team will proceed with testing.

The small craft will have a 30-Martian-day (31-Earth-day) experimental flight-test window. If it succeeds, Ingenuity will prove that powered, controlled flight by an aircraft can be achieved at Mars, enabling future Mars missions to potentially add an aerial dimension to their explorations with second-generation rotorcraft.

References: https://mars.nasa.gov/technology/helicopter/

NASA’s Curiosity Rover Marks Eight Years of Mars Exploration (Planetary Science / Astronomy)

NASA’s Curiosity rover has seen a lot since August 5, 2012, when it first set its wheels inside the huge basin of Gale Crater.

Fig: Curiosity rover took this selfie on October 11, 2019. The rover drilled twice in this location, nicknamed Glen Etive. Just left of the rover are the two drill holes, called Glen Etive 1 (right) and Glen Etive 2 (left). Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS.

Curiosity, the fourth rover the United States has sent to Mars, launched November 26, 2011 and landed on the Red Planet at 10:32 p.m. PDT on August 5, 2012 (1:32 a.m. EDT on August 6, 2012).

The mission is led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and involves almost 500 scientists from the United States and other countries around the world.

Curiosity explores the 154-km- (96-mile) wide Gale Crater and acquires rock, soil, and air samples for onboard analysis.

The car-size rover is about as tall as a basketball player and uses a 2.1-m- (7-foot) long arm to place tools close to rocks selected for study.

Its large size allows it to carry an advanced kit of science instruments, including 17 cameras, a laser to vaporize and study small pinpoint spots of rocks at a distance, and a drill to collect powdered rock samples:

Fig: These 26 holes represent each of the rock samples NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has collected as of early July 2020. A map in the upper left shows where the holes were drilled along the rover’s route, along with where it scooped six samples of soil. The drill holes were taken by the MAHLI camera on the end of the rover’s robotic arm. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS.

(i) the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) is the rover’s version of the magnifying hand lens that geologists usually carry with them into the field; MAHLI’s close-up images reveal the minerals and textures in rock surfaces;

(ii) the Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) shot a color video of the terrain below as the rover descended to its landing site; the video helped mission planners select the best path for Curiosity when the rover started exploring Gale Crater;

(iii) when the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) is placed right next to a rock or soil surface, it uses two kinds of radiation to measure the amounts and types of chemical elements that are present.

(iv) the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument’s laser, camera and spectrograph work together to identify the chemical and mineral composition of rocks and soils;

(v) the Chemical and Mineralogy (CheMin) performs chemical analysis of powdered rock samples to identify the types and amounts of different minerals that are present;

(vi) the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) is made up of three different instruments that search for and measure organic chemicals and light elements that are important ingredients potentially associated with life;

(vii) the Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) is helping prepare for future human exploration of Mars; the instrument measures the type and amount of harmful radiation that reaches the Martian surface from the Sun and space sources;

(viii) the Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) looks for telltale changes in the way neutrons released from Martian soil that indicate liquid or frozen water exists underground;

(ix) the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) contains all the weather instruments needed to provide daily and seasonal reports on meteorological conditions around the rover;

(x) the Mars Science Laboratory Entry Descent and Landing Instrument (MEDLI) measured the heating and atmospheric pressure changes that occurred during the descent to help determine the effects on different parts of the spacecraft.

Since touchdown, Curiosity journeyed more than 23 km (14 miles), drilling 26 rock samples and scooping six soil samples.

References: (1) https://mars.nasa.gov/msl/mission/overview/ (2) https://mars.nasa.gov/msl/spacecraft/instruments/summary/

NASA’s Mars 2020 Rover Will Have 23 Cameras (Astronomy / Mission / Science and Technology)

According to NASA, the agency’s next Mars rover will have more cameras than any rover before it: a grand total of 23, to create sweeping panoramas, reveal obstacles, study the atmosphere, and assist science instruments. There will even be a camera inside the rover’s body, which will study samples as they’re stored and left on the surface for collection by a future mission.

Fig: This artist’s concept depicts NASA’s Mars 2020 rover on the surface of the Red Planet. The mission takes the next step by not only seeking signs of habitable conditions on Mars in the ancient past, but also searching for signs of past microbial life itself. The rover introduces a drill that can collect core samples of the most promising rocks and soils and set them aside on the surface of Mars. A future mission could potentially return these samples to Earth. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech.

Mars 2020 rover’s cameras represent a steady progression since NASA’s Mars Pathfinder rover: after that mission, the Spirit and Opportunity rovers were designed with 10 cameras each, including on their landers; Mars Science Laboratory’s Curiosity rover has 17.

Fig: A selection of the 23 cameras on NASA’s 2020 Mars rover. Many are improved versions of the cameras on the Curiosity rover, with a few new additions as well. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech.

The Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity rovers were all designed with engineering cameras for planning drives (Navcams) and avoiding hazards (Hazcams). These produced 1-megapixel images in black and white.

On the Mars 2020 rover, the engineering cameras have been upgraded to acquire high-resolution, 20-megapixel color images.

Their lenses will also have a wider field of view. That’s critical for the mission, which will try to maximize the time spent doing science and collecting samples.

NASA plans to use existing spacecraft already in orbit at Mars — ESA’s Trace Gas Orbiter and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and MAVEN orbiter — as relays for the Mars 2020 mission, which will support the cameras during the rover’s first two years.

References: https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/mission/overview/