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NASA’s Mars 2020 Rover Will Have 23 Cameras

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.

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.

“Camera technology keeps improving. Each successive mission is able to utilize these improvements, with better performance and lower cost,” said Dr. Justin Maki, Mars 2020’s imaging scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

“The cameras on the Mars 2020 rover will include more color and 3D imaging than on Curiosity,” added Arizona State University researcher Dr. Jim Bell, principal investigator for 2020’s Mastcam-Z.

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“The ‘Z’ stands for ‘zoom,’ which will be added to an improved version of Curiosity’s high-definition Mastcam, the rover’s main eyes.”

“Routinely using 3D images at high resolution could pay off in a big way. They’re useful for both long-range and near-field science targets,” he said.

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.
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.

“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 Dr. Colin McKinney, product delivery manager for the new engineering cameras at JPL.

“That means less time spent panning, snapping pictures and stitching. The cameras are also able to reduce motion blur, so they can take photos while the rover is on the move.”

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.

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