NASA reveals Curiosity 2020's 23-camera payload

Probe to carry cams named SHERLOC and WATSON, plus chute-cam and selfie-snappers

Curiosity 2020's camera manifest
Curiosity's cameras - Image NASA JPL & Caltech

NASA's revealed its Curiosity 2020 mission will pack 23 cameras.

That's a half-dozen more the current Curiosity's 17 cameras, and way ahead of the Pathfinder mission's measly five (two on the lander and three on the Sojourner rover).

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory announcement explains what all these cameras are for.

Curiosity 2020's descent and landing will be captured by six cameras, among other things “providing the first video of a parachute opening on another planet”. The Lander Vision System Camera will use terrain relative navigation to help guide the landing.

Camera technology has advanced since Curiosity was built for its November 2011 launch, making for nine suitably-enhanced engineering cameras for navigation and positioning the robot arms. The 20 megapixel colour cameras weigh around 425 grams, and will capture 5120 x 3840-sized images.

As well as getting better resolution of Curiosity 2020's terrain, the wider field of view will give the NASA mission team better views of the rover itself for health checks and to control the movements of the arm and drill.

Curiosity 2020 will also have more capacity for autonomous movement, courtesy of six hazard avoidance cameras (four on the front, two to the rear) that will build a three-dimensional view of its surroundings; and two sets of colour stereo navigation cameras.

And then there's the science cameras:

  • MastCam-Z – an upgrade to Curiosity's mast-mounted cameras, capturing three-dimensional images or video with zoom lenses;
  • SuperCam – a combination camera and spectroscope to analyse the chemicals released by firing a laser at samples up to seven metres away;
  • PIXL – X-ray fluoroscopy that identifies elements in “target spots as small as a grain of table salt”, with a “micro-context camera” to check PIXL's images against the rover's “elemental composition maps”;
  • SHERLOC [No sh*t - Ed] – “Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals” – in other words, the search-for-life camera – is another laser-and-spectroscope combo with a macro camera capturing extreme closeups of areas under study, to send home for mission scientists to work on how rock samples formed; and
  • WATSON – another backronym was obviously required. The “Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering” will be mounted on the turret of the rover's robotic arm. As well as helping with SHERLOC's mission, this camera will capture fine-scale textures of rocks and dust, and can be turned inwards to look at the rover, with a calibration target – a standard metric bar image.

We'll leave the last word to the Curiosity Rover's Twitter account.

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