Cameras on Mars 2020 rover confirmed to have perfect vision
Tests conducted on several of the cameras that have been installed on the Mars 2020 rover have confirmed that they have perfect, 20/20 This is one of the more critical aspects of the mission as it will help guide the vision.
Scheduled for launch in the summer of 2020, the rover will be equipped with a total of 23 cameras–seven for science, nine for engineering, and seven for entry, descent, and landing. The images they take will play crucial functions, including enabling the rover to capture high-resolution zoom images, take panoramic photos, prevent it from crashing into boulders, and guide its robotic arm.
“We completed the machine-vision calibration of the forward-facing cameras on the rover,” said Justin Maki, chief engineer for imaging and the imaging scientist for Mars 2020 at JPL. “This measurement is critical for accurate stereo vision, which is an important capability of the vehicle.”
Last month, mission engineers calibrated the cameras placed at the front of the rover for optimal resolution and accuracy by imaging target boards featuring grids of dots at distances ranging from one to 44 yards (one to 40 meters). The tests were conducted on two navigation cameras or Navcams, four hazard-avoidance cameras or Hazcams, the laser- and spectrometer-equipped Supercam, and two high-resolution multispectral stereoscopic imaging cameras known as Mastcam-Zs.
“We tested every camera on the front of the rover chassis and also those mounted on the mast. Characterizing the geometric alignment of all these imagers is important for driving the vehicle on Mars, operating the robotic arm, and accurately targeting the rover’s laser,” explained imaging scientist and chief engineer for imaging Justin Maki of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) via an agency-issued release.
Accurate stereo vision on the forward-facing cameras is crucial for the rover to successfully do its job, he added. Using software, Mars 2020 will autonomously drive itself on the Martian surface.
Cameras mounted on the rover’s rear and on the turret of its robotic arm are the next scheduled to undergo calibration testing. The Navcams, which will be placed on the back of the rover, will work in conjunction with the Hazcams to plan the route Mars 2020 will travel, operate its robotic arm for the purpose of drilling and acquiring soil samples, and prevent the rover from getting lost and/or crashing into hazardous obstacles.
The Navcams will capture panoramic images in 3D while the SuperCam will photograph rocks and soil in a search for evidence of ancient microbial life. Images taken by the Mastcam-Zs will reveal details in rocks and sediment that mission scientists can then analyze as part of an effort to understand the Red Planet’s geological history.
Mars 2020‘s overall mission is to search for biosignatures or signs that ancient Mars was once habitable for microbial life. The rover will also collect and store numerous soil and rock samples, which it will place in tubes for collection and return to Earth by a future mission.
If you ever wanted to send your name to Mars, this mission can provide that opportunity. All you have to do is complete this online form before the Sept. 30 deadline.
If launch occurs on schedule, Mars 2020 is expected to land on the Red Planet’s surface on Feb. 18, 2021.
Video courtesy of NASA / JPL
Laurel Kornfeld is an amateur astronomer and freelance writer from Highland Park, NJ, who enjoys writing about astronomy and planetary science. She studied journalism at Douglass College, Rutgers University, and earned a Graduate Certificate of Science from Swinburne University’s Astronomy Online program. Her writings have been published online in The Atlantic, Astronomy magazine’s guest blog section, the UK Space Conference, the 2009 IAU General Assembly newspaper, The Space Reporter, and newsletters of various astronomy clubs. She is a member of the Cranford, NJ-based Amateur Astronomers, Inc. Especially interested in the outer solar system, Laurel gave a brief presentation at the 2008 Great Planet Debate held at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, MD.