NASA ‘optometrists’ verify Mars 2020 Rover’s 20/20 vision

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NASA 'optometrists' verify Mars 2020 Rover's 20/20 vision
Image courtesy of Billy Brown on Flickr, under a Creative Commons 2.0 license

The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) said on 5 August that its Mars 2020 rover had undergone an “eye exam” after several new cameras were installed on it.

The rover contains a veritable armada of imaging capabilities, from wide-angle landscape cameras to narrow-angle high-resolution zoom lens cameras. The cameras tested included two Navcams, four Hazcams, a SuperCam and two Mastcam-Z cameras.

Mounted on the rover’s remote sensing mast, the Navcams (navigation cameras) will acquire panoramic 3D image data that will support route planning, robotic-arm operations, drilling and sample acquisition.

The Navcams can work in tandem with the Hazcams (hazard-avoidance cameras) mounted on the lower portion of the rover chassis to provide complementary views of the terrain to safeguard the rover against getting lost or crashing into unexpected obstacles. They’ll be used by software enabling the Mars 2020 rover to perform self-driving over the Martian terrain.

Along with its laser and spectrometers, SuperCam’s imager will examine Martian rocks and soil, seeking organic compounds that could be related to past life on Mars. The rover’s two Mastcam-Z high-resolution cameras will work together as a multispectral, stereoscopic imaging instrument to enhance the Mars 2020 rover’s driving and core-sampling capabilities.

The Mastcam-Z cameras will also enable science team members to observe details in rocks and sediment at any location within the rover’s field of view, helping them piece together the planet’s geologic history.

“We completed the machine-vision calibration of the forward-facing cameras on the rover,” Justin Maki, chief engineer for imaging and the imaging scientist for Mars 2020 at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement. “This measurement is critical for accurate stereo vision, which is an important capability of the vehicle.”

To perform the calibration, the 2020 team imaged target boards that feature grids of dots, placed at distances ranging from one to 44 yards (one to 40 meters) away. The target boards were used to confirm that the cameras meet the project’s requirements for resolution and geometric accuracy.

“We tested every camera on the front of the rover chassis and also those mounted on the mast,” Maki added. “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.”

NASA expects the imagers on the back of the rover body and on the turret at the end of the rover’s arm to undergo similar calibration sometime in the next few weeks.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory is building and will manage operations of the Mars 2020 rover for the NASA Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. NASA plans to use Mars 2020 and other missions, including to the Moon, to prepare for human exploration of the so-called Red Planet.

The agency intends to establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028 through NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration plans.

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