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17 Cameras Ready To Decent On Mars

August 1, 2012 Lowell Bradford Blog, News & Articles 0 Comments

surveillance-video_2267_784161358On November 26th 2011 NASA launched the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL or Curiosity) rover in an attempt to not seek out life on Mars but to look for the ingredients of life that may have once existed on the red planet close to Earth. At the end of Curiosity's journey to Mars on the 6th of August 2012 at 5:31UTC its base landing target is the Gale Crater where it will land and over time convey the area looking for signs that there may have once been life on Mars.Fixed with advanced technology breakthrough's and up to 17 cameras, Curiosity should be able to detect whether there were elements on Mars that once may have supported micro-organisms or single celled organisms changing the way we look at possible alien life on other planets.

Fitted with 17 cameras, one main camera that will be most crucial on the day of the landing will be the Mars Descent Imager or the MARDI. The MARDI camera has 2 objectives that are relative to the mission and they are to determine the exact point of where Curiosity has landed, and deliver an engineering-geologic and geologic framework of the Gale Crater landing site for early operation. The MARDI camera is designed to be pointed downwards and is located at the front left side of the Curiosity Mars rover. It features a detector size of 1600 x 1200 pixels, and consists of a 70° x 55° field of view, a 4.5/s frame rate, a 1.3ms exposure time, as well as an 8GB internal buffer that can accommodate up to 4000 raw frames or up to 800s of video footage, and a 0.76 mrad pixel size (yields 1.5mm/pixel at an altitude of 2m and a 1.5m/pixel at an altitude of 2km).

The MARDI camera Kodak CCD detector is covered with filter micro-lenses that are arranged for color imaging in a Bayer pattern making it the second time a color Bayer-filtered camera has flown into space. Once Curiosity has made its final touchdown on Mars's surface the MARDI camera will first transmit thumbnail frames in 200 x 150 pixel resolutions at about 70cm from the ground while yielding a 100 x 75cm FOV that transverse over the rover's direction of movement. Over the course of the landing the MARDI camera is designed to take a series of captured images between when the heat shield is jettisoned to the time of landing, and will capture hundreds of color images which are designed to help the Curiosity rover team figure out where exactly it has landed and eventually in the long run deliver high definition video of the MSL rover's decent to Mars.

Another main camera system on the Curiosity Mars rover is the Mars Hand Lens Imager or the MAHLI. The MAHLI camera system is mounted directly to the robotic arm of the rover and will be used to acquire microscopic images of soil and rock as the robotic arm collects samples. This advanced camera system is able to provide the NASA team with true color images that feature 1600 x 1200 pixels and a resolution rate as high as 14.5 micrometres per pixel. The MAHLI is able to provide Ultraviolet and white LED illumination for fluorescence and darkness imaging, features a 33.8° to 38.5° FOV, andis completed with a 18.3mm-21.3mm focal length with mechanical focusing that can range from millimeter to infinite distances.Featuring a focus stacking process the Mars Hand Lens Imager is able to take images with different focus distances and combined them into one image that delivers more depth and contrast to the picture quality. This highly advanced camera system can store raw images, or is able to accommodate with real time lossless predictive encoding andJPEG compression.

The MastCam camera system is designed with 2 high powered cameras that are able to provide true color and multiple spectra imaging. The MastCam camera system features 1600 x 1200 pixels and can take up to 10 frames per second high definition hardware compressed video at 720p or 1280 x 720 resolutions. The Medium Angle Camera or MAC in the MastCam system features a 15° field of view, a 34mm focal length, and is able to yield up to a 22cm/pixel scale at 1 kilometer. The Narrow Angle Camera or NAC in the MastCam camera system comes with a 5.1° field of view, a 100mm focal length, and is able to yield a 7.4/pixel scale at 1 kilometer. Each of the separate cameras are designed with 8GB's of flash memory and can apply JPEG or real time lossless when in use with the capacity of storing up to 5,500 raw images. They also feature autofocus capabilities that allows for them to easily focus on objects that may be 2.1m to infinity away, and consists of an integrated RGB Bayer pattern filter with up to 8 filter positions. When compared to the Mars Exploration Rover's cameras, the MastCam system features a 1.25x higher spatial resolution on the MAC camera, and a 3.67x higher spatial resolution on the NAC camera. Although they were never used in the Curiosity rover Mars mission, a pair of MastCam's with zoom lenses were developed but where never used in the final design because of the testing time needed and the launch date that was looming in November 2011.

NavCams or Navigation cameras were also integrated into the rover's design and are mounted to the mast to help support ground navigation. This pair of black and white cameras featurea 45° angle of view, and are designed to capture stereoscopic 3D imagery by the use of visible light. These cameras help to ensure the path of Curiosity is clear for easy navigation over the planet's surface.

Hazcams or Hazard Avoidance Cameras are specially designed black and white navigation cameras that have been fitted to each of the four corners of the Curiosity rover. These Hazcam cameras are specially designed for autonomous hazard avoidance when the rover is in full drive and are also for the safe positioning of the rovers robotic arm when on rocks and soils.These highly advanced cameras are able to capture stereoscopic 3D imagery using visible light, and come with a 120° field of view allowing for easy mapping of the terrain in front of the rover up to 3m. The Hazcam camera system works in tandem with specialized software to help the rover make safe choices on its own and to help safeguard it against crashing inadvertently into unexpected obstacles.

The ChemCam is a combination of remote sensing instruments including a camera that is designed to use a laser to vaporize a part of a rock or soil for collection and study. Because of the way this process is done, a remote camera is used to acquire and collect extremely detailed images for study. This camera is able to resolve features that are 5 to 10 time smaller than that were visible with the cameras on NASA's 2 Mars Exploration Rovers. This camera is able to resolve 1mm objects that are at a 10m distance with a field of view of 20cm.

The Mars Curiosity Mission is a forward step in the evolution and possibility of human or alien life evolving elsewhere apart from Earth, and with its 17 cameras on board the rover, we too can experience the secrets of the red planet and all its wonder.

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