NASA’s Mars 2020 rover will deploy more cameras to the Martian surface than ever before. The $2.1 billion (€1.8 billion) rover features no fewer than 23 individual cameras. The 23 cameras are split into three main functions, engineering cameras (9), science cameras (7), and entry, descent, and landing cameras (7).
The advancements in smartphone photography have meant that cameras are smaller, better quality and more affordable than ever before. Engineers on the Mars 2020 rover are taking advantage of this new wave of ultra-small, ultralight and ultra high-quality cameras to give us a completely new look at the red planet.
There is, however, a problem. Mobile networks on Earth have advanced with smartphone cameras to handle the enormous load sending high-resolution images requires. The data link between Mars and Earth, on the other hand, has not advanced much past the late nineties. As a result, NASA scientists will need to rely on advanced compression algorithms to best utilize their 100 megabits a day limit.
If all goes according to plan, the Mars 2020 rover will launch aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket around July or August of 2020. The rover will then remain safely within the transit vehicle for the 8 to 9-month journey arriving in a Mars orbit in the first quarter of 2021.
Once in orbit around Mars, the rover’s MSL EDL (also known as the Sky Crane) decent vehicle will safely transport it to the surface. During the descent, seven of the rover’s cameras will be activated to assist with the descent and to gather valuable data. NASA officials are yet to select the rover’s final landing site. They have, however, narrowed it down to three potential sites: Columbia Hills, Gusev Craterjezero Crater, and NE Syrtis.
Once safely on Martian soil, the Mars 2020 rover will begin its prime mission which is set to last one full Mars year (669 Earth days). The rover’s mission parameters consist of four objectives: looking for habitability, seeking biosignatures, collecting soil and rock samples and finally preparing for human missions.
The Mars 2020 rover is also likely to be an important element in NASA’s multibillion-dollar sample return mission. The mission, projected to launch in 2026, will involve an elaborate mix of ascent, descent and transit vehicles to transport large quantities of Martian sample to Earth.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech