The Curiosity rover has been an unqualified success since the moment it touched down on Mars aboard a magnificent rocket sled contraption. It’s traveled farther on the red planet than any other machine while delivering huge amounts of data to researchers here on Earth. Curiosity is suffering from camera envy today, though. NASA has unveiled the camera setup for its upcoming 2020 Mars rover. Why have a separate camera unveiling? Because there are 23 of them.
It’s not just about having as many cameras as possible–each and every one of them has a purpose, as explained by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory announcement. Many of the cameras are based on instruments that went with Curiosity to Mars, which makes sense. That rover has been so successful that the 2020 rover is shaping up to be a revamped Curiosity.
The 2020 rover will take more pictures, with higher resolutions, and from more angles than any past rover. It all starts with the landing, which will be similar to Curiosity’s death-defying act back in 2012. There will be six entry, descent, and landing cameras on the rover to help NASA record every moment of the rover’s arrival. Among other things, these cameras will capture the first close-up images of a parachute opening over an alien world.
There will be a total of nine engineering cameras for planning drives and checking the terrain. Past rovers have had small 1MP resolutions and only captured in monochrome. The 2020 rover’s engineering cameras will have 20MP full-color sensors. Rather than stitching all those little images together, mission managers can snap one picture and see a large area around the rover.
Curiosity’s MASTCAM has become one of its most famous instruments, and the 2020 rover will have an improved version called the MastCam-Z. The “Z” stands for “zoom” because this system will be capable of 3x optical zoom. That should mean much better images without moving the rover around unnecessarily. The mast is also home to the SuperCam, a higher resolution version of Curiosity’s ChemCam. NASA jokes the 2020 rover will have 20/20 vision–and hey, who says scientists don’t have a sense of humor?
The 2020 rover still lacks a name and an official launch date. NASA hopes to launch the mission in 2018 with arrival at Mars scheduled for late summer 2020. At that point, Curiosity will have been wandering the surface for eight years. The new mission will have quite a legacy to live up to. The new cameras mean we’ll all have what amounts to a front-row seat, too.
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