NASA's next Mars rover will have 23 cameras

Orbiters will be used as relay stations for data the rover collects.
By Laurel Kornfeld | Nov 07, 2017
NASA's Mars 2020 rover, which is currently under construction, will be equipped with 23 cameras, which will take detailed photos of the planet, ranging from panoramas to 3D imaging to detailed pictures of geological features.

Scheduled for launch in July 2020 and not yet officially named, the rover will parachute onto the Martian surface and photograph itself in the process.

Its cameras will work together with its many science instruments to analyze the planet's past habitability and current geology, atmosphere, and overall environment.

In contrast, the Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars in 2012, has 14 cameras, and the twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity have seven each.

Seven of the new rover's cameras will photograph its entry, descent, and landing. Another seven will focus on science images while the nine remaining cameras will center on engineering.

On the surface, one of the rover's internal cameras will study rock samples, which will be left in a specific location for collection by a future mission.

With wider lenses than those on Curiosity, Spirit, or Opportunity, the cameras on Mars 2020 will be able to take broad landscape photos while traversing the Martian surface.

Cameras used specifically for navigating and avoiding hazards, known as Navcam and Hazcam, will take high-resolution photos of 20 megapixels. Unlike their counterparts on the earlier rovers, these images will be in color.

"Our previous Navcams would snap multiple pictures and stitch them together. With the wider field of view, we get the same perspective in one shot," said Colin McKinney of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), where the rover is being built.

In addition to compressing data, the new rover's cameras will use spacecraft orbiting the planet as data relay stations, much like Spirit and Opportunity did with the Mars Odyssey orbiter.

Three spacecraft currently orbit the Red Planet--the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, MAVEN, and the European Space Agency's (ESA) Trace Gas Orbiter.

The rover's wheels will be more durable and have better traction than those on Curiosity.

Other scientific instruments the rover will carry include an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer to study surface materials, an ultraviolet spectrometer, a radar imager, a microphone, and a small solar-powered drone that will assist it in choosing exploration sites.

Mars 2020 will attempt to create oxygen from Mars' atmosphere of carbon dioxide, which if successful, could serve future crewed missions.

While a list of possible landing sites has been released, none has yet been chosen.

 

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