NASA Mars rover launches: a closer look at its record-breaking cameras

NASA Mars rover launches: a more in-depth take a look at its record-breaking cameras

The NASA Mars Perseverance Rover has efficiently launched – and it is carrying a document variety of cameras to assist it hunt for indicators of life on the crimson planet.

The six-wheeled robotic, which is the successor to the Mars Curiosity Rover, took off from Cape Canaveral Air Power Station in Florida and is predicted to the touch down on the floor of Mars on 18 February 2021.

Its youthful sibling landed on Mars in August 2012 and stays there, investigating to today, dwelling off its radioactive isotope energy supply. 

So why has NASA launched one other Mars rover and what’s so particular in regards to the many cameras it is taking for the journey? We have taken a more in-depth take a look at its imaging tech – and a few of it has a stunning quantity in frequent with the earth-bound digicam in your pocket… 

Perseverance vs Curiosity: the digicam upgrades

The Mars Perseverance Rover has the identical Wall-E allure because the Curiosity, however the tech inside could be very completely different. 

Curiosity has 17 cameras, Perseverance has 23, together with 4 used to doc the touchdown course of, plus the parachute that can assist this exceptional ‘automobile’ land safely. 

In a while we’ll dig into what these 23 cameras do, however the basic technical upgrades deserve some consideration first. 

NASA Mars rover

(Picture credit score: NASA)

Curiosity makes use of 1MP black-and-white cameras to seize the wonderful pictures you may see posted recurrently on the NASA website. Then again, Perseverance has 20MP full coloration sensors, a lot nearer to the decision of your telephone or digicam.

This implies it may well take pictures with out the multi publicity stitching methodology Curiosity makes use of. A few of its cameras even have wider-angle lenses, once more letting it seize extra of Mars’s panorama with out panning. 

“Our earlier Navcams would snap a number of footage and sew them collectively,” says Colin McKinney of JPL, product supply supervisor for one in every of Perseverance digicam households. “With the broader discipline of view, we get the identical perspective in a single shot.”

Portrait mode on Mars

Why does the previous Mars Rover have such low-res {hardware}, which appears old-school even for 2012?

Curiosity was in growth lengthy earlier than it launched, clearly, however there was additionally the info fee to contemplate. You’ll be able to’t merely Bluetooth or AirDrop pictures from the floor of Mars to Florida. Even with Bluetooth 5.0.

NASA has mitigated this drawback through the use of spacecraft in orbit round Mars as information relays. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter MAVEN and the European House Company’s Hint Fuel Orbiter will assist the Perseverance Rover on this means for 2 years, which is the preliminary interval of its mission.

NASA Mars Rover

(Picture credit score: NASA)

Perseverance’s cameras additionally make a lot higher use of stereoscopy. That is the place two cameras are positioned close to to one another, however with sufficient distance between that they’ve a barely completely different view of a scene. These variations are then analyzed to supply a 3D depth map that may distinguish close to objects from far ones, and create three dimensional pictures. 

Many smartphones use the identical method for his or her ‘Portrait’ modes, which blur the background to emulate the impact of a large aperture DSLR-style digicam lens. For these of us preferring to learn NASA’s weblog than take selfies, it means we are able to anticipate wonderful high-resolution coloration ‘first particular person’ pictures from the floor of Mars that we are able to view by means of a digital actuality headset or Google Cardboard.

That’s not their actual function, after all. The 23 cameras and two microphones are Perseverence’s eyes and ears. 

“It would sense the air round it, see and scan the horizon, hear the planet with microphones on the floor for the primary time, really feel it because it picks up samples to cache,” says Thomas Zurbuchen, Affiliate Administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. 

These cameras might be cut up into a couple of classes. There are ones simply to document the touchdown course of which, if all goes effectively,  we are able to sit up for seeing on 18 February 2021. 

Then there are the navigation and hazard detection cameras, plus its ‘science cameras’. These are the eyes for Perseverance’s investigational instruments like its robotic arm. Let’s take a more in-depth take a look at how a few of these work.

The Mars rover’s head

The photographs that we’ll see from Perseverance are probably to come back from the equal of the rover’s ‘head’, if this had been a Pixar character. 

Two units of 20MP Navcams sit at both aspect of the top on Perseverance’s principal mast. These might be utilized by the workforce’s engineers to seek out protected paths for the Rover, and have the visible acuity to “spot a golf ball from 82 ft”, in line with NASA.

This can be with the assistance of the Mastcam-Z models that sit proper beside these 20MP “eyeball” cameras. 

NASA Mars Rover

(Picture credit score: NASA)

The ‘Z’ half stands for zoom. Two teams of zoom lens components sit contained in the barrel, offering focal lengths of 28-100mm, comparable with an excellent all-rounder DSLR lens. 

They’ll deal with objects simply two meters away and their 7.4-micron pixel pitch just isn’t far off that of the Sony Alpha A7S III (8.Four microns). 

Decision is much decrease, at 2MP (so a max 1600×1200 picture dimension), however the mixture of extensive and zoom cameras provides Perseverance’s head unit an extremely versatile view of its Martian environment. 

See that half above these cameras, which appears to be like slightly like a house cinema projector? That is the Perseverance’s SuperCam. Regardless of the thrilling identify, it’s not a conventional imaging digicam. The SuperCam makes use of a laser to research rocks and soil, specializing in a goal smaller than the nib of a pencil. 

NASA Mars Rover

(Picture credit score: NASA)

Perseverance additionally has two rows of wide-angle hazard cameras that permit engineers see across the Rover’s ft. 

There are 4 of those cameras on entrance and two on the again.

You’ll be able to consider these slightly just like the parking sensors of a automobile. They may see rocks and particles not seen to the cameras on the principle mast, and may act as a information to tell the place to level the sensors on the robotic arm. 

Elementary, my expensive WATSON

NASA just isn’t afraid of indulging within the odd geeky reference. WATSON and SHERLOC are two groups of {hardware} sensors on the Perseverance’s robotic arm. 

SHERLOC is a spectrometer that makes use of a deep ultraviolet laser to research objects on Mars’s floor, and is aided by the WATSON digicam.

NASA Mars Rover

(Picture credit score: NASA)

This presents a wider, extra eyeball-friendly view of what the extremely centered SHERLOC sensors are taking a look at. 

NASA says WATSON is “virtually equivalent” to the MAHLI digicam used on the older Curiosity Rover. That could be a 1600 x 1200 (2MP) digicam with a magnifying glass-like discipline of view, used to have a look at objects as shut as 18.3mm. It will probably additionally document 720p video. 

What’s subsequent for the NASA Mars Rover?

The Perseverance Rover will land in Mars’s Jezero Crater, which has a diameter of 49km. This spot was chosen as a result of it’s believed to be the positioning of what was as soon as a physique of water. 

“The one means that would type geometrically was for it to be a lake,” NASA planetary scientist Dr. Caleb Fassett instructed the NY Occasions. 

Night time-time temperatures within the crater drop to minus 130 levels Fahrenheit (minus 90 Celsius), so we’re hoping the aptly-named Perseverance has taken a coat.

The rover will keep for “no less than one Mars 12 months”, which is value just below two of our Earth years, looking for indicators of microbial life, and gathering soil and samples. These might be saved in sealed tubes. One other digicam is used right here too – the CacheCam appears to be like down the tube as Martian materials is collected, to document the method. 

One remaining little bit of thrilling tech is that Rover may even carry a helicopter drone, often called Ingenuity. It will likely be the “first plane to try management flight on one other planet”. And due to transmission delays, what restricted instructions it’s given by the engineers could have been programmed-in lengthy earlier than the flight truly takes place. 

Perseverance is a 1,025kg, 3-meter lengthy, $2.Four billion area automobile. Let’s hope it makes its solution to Mars safely. 

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