NASA's Mars 2020 rover passed its first set of eye exams as engineers work on the unmanned explorer's array of cameras. The first complement of what will be a total of 23 cameras was installed on the front of the rover at the Spacecraft Assembly Facility's High Bay 1 at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, in July and then given the robotic equivalent of an eye-chart test.
Things have come a long way since the 1970s when a planetary mission carried a single camera and even the first two successful Viking Mars landers only had a pair of imagers each. By comparison, the Mars 2020 rover has more eyes than some nightmare spider, with nine engineering cameras, seven science cameras, and another seven entry, descent, and landing cameras.
These range from small navigation cameras to help guide the rover across the Martian landscape to a state-of-the-art high-resolution imager for geological work. According to NASA, the first of these to be installed and tested included two Navcams, four Hazcams, the SuperCam, and the two Mastcam-Z cameras.
Once up and running, these were then calibrated using a kind of eye chart consisting of a grid of white dots on a black background that was placed in front of the camera in question at distances from one to 40 m (3.3 to 131 ft). This allowed the engineers to determine its resolution and geometric accuracy.
The latter is particularly important because the navigation cameras (Navcams) on the remote sensing mast must produce panoramic stereoscopic images for getting about and operating the rover's robotic arm. It's equally important for the hazard cameras (Hazcams) that, as the name suggests, keep the rover from running into things or getting lost.
Meanwhile, the SuperCam is used to study Martian rocks with an emphasis on looking for signs of life, past or present, and the two Mastcam-z cameras will provide multispectral images for both science and navigation functions.
According to the space agency, the rest of the cameras will be installed and tested in the coming weeks. When the engineering work is completed, the rover will be shipped to the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida for launch in June 2020. The rover will then land autonomously on February 18, 2021 at Jezero Crater in the Syrtis Major region of Mars.
"We completed the machine-vision calibration of the forward-facing cameras on the rover," says 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. 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."
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