NASA has detailed advanced cameras that will serve as the “eyes” of the Perseverance rover on Mars, a big step forward from previous Mars robots as it prepares for a major trip to the Red Planet by the Mobile Lab. If all goes according to plan, NASA plans to launch The Perseverance sometime in late July or early August.
This will be the beginning of a months-long journey that NASA expects will not land on Mars until February 18, 2021. The landing will also be as dramatic as launching from Earth, using a complex descent system and a series of parachutes designed to land the rover into the Jezzello crater.
Although there will be many different scientific instruments on the Perseverance, plus a helicopter, the biggest impact on this mission may be the rover’s Mastcam-Z “head”. Although it is the latest version of the device the Curiosity rover has been using on Mars for several years, it has a big advantage. “Z” stands for zoom.
“The original plan was for Curiosity to have a zoom camera that zooms the lens into the ultimate wide angle. Jim Bell of Arizona State University, lead researcher at Curiosity Mastcam-Z, explains. “It’s going to be an amazing panoramic view, but it turns out it was really hard to build at the time. “
Curiosity still has a wide-angle field of view, but it is by pairing two cameras: one with a wide angle and one with a fixed telephoto. By combining the data of the two cameras, together with their offset lenses, you can create a 3D stereoscopic view. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) team that manages the rover can use it for navigational purposes back on Earth.
However, this is a time-consuming process. First, in order to collect as much data as a wide-angle camera, telephoto cameras need to piece together up to nine different photos from different angles. They must then be sent back to Earth, which in itself takes time, and then everything is synthesized together.
Perseverance will also have two cameras, but each camera will zoom. This will allow NASA to line up their field of view, making the field of view exactly the same on both sides, reducing processing and transmission time. The resulting image will have a variety of uses. In addition to the aesthetic advantages, they also give the Perseverance team a better understanding of the terrain that the rover needs to cross. Geologists will also be able to use these images to select potentially interesting rocks and structures and create a shortlist of candidates for the survey. Mastcam-Z’s visual capabilities are actually much stronger, and its ultraviolet and infrared sensitivity will allow it to better perceive the different components of these rocks.
At the same time, one of the most striking images will be shared like Curiosity. JPL also plans to share the images on public websites — as well as stitches made up of amateur image editors — to explore the Red Planet ahead of future Manned Missions.