NASA’s Curiosity rover has been a smashing success since its landing on Mars in 2012. So, it’s no surprise the upcoming Mars 2020 rover will use a very similar design. The team is currently assembling the rover, which is scheduled for a July 2020 launch, and it just got two of its most important components: the Mastcam-Z cameras. These high-definition, zoom-capable cameras will allow NASA to survey the Martian landscape and produce the photos that will no doubt wow everyone back here on Earth.
In the image above, you can see team members re-installing the cover on the remote sensing mast (RSM) after mounting the cameras. The RSM is home to multiple instruments and cameras just like it was on Curiosity — you could think of this as the rover’s “head.” The rover will have a total of 23 cameras when it’s complete.
The large red lens cover is the SuperCam, a system of lasers and spectrometers that can analyze the chemical composition of rocks. It’s an upgraded version of Curiosity’s ChemCam. Directly south of that is one of the rover’s two Mastcam-Z units. The other is partially obscured by support equipment in the foreground. Both Mastcam-Z modules have covers labeled “remove before flight.”
Working together, the two 1600×1200 Mastcam-Z units will be able to take full-color 3D images of the Martian landscape. These cameras share a great deal with Curiosity’s Mastcams including body design, detectors, and firmware. However, they have integrated 3.6:1 optical zoom capability. The Mastcam-Z system has a resolution of 0.8mm per pixel just in front of the rover and 38mm per pixel 100 meters away. NASA expects this to make the team’s driving and sample collection activities much easier than they are with Curiosity.
NASA currently plans for a February 21, 2021 landing on Mars. This rover will be the first spacecraft in the history of planetary exploration that is capable of analyzing and retargeting its landing automatically. It will also deploy the first ever flying vehicle on another planet, the Mars Helicopter Scout. Mars 2020 has an expected mission duration of one Martian year, but if it’s anything like Curiosity, it’ll last much longer. Even after the rover shuts down, it may still be able to contribute to science by storing samples in a special module for later collection by an as-yet-unplanned sample return mission.
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