NASA's Mars 2020 Rover Will Be Equipped With Several Powerful 'Eyes'

Sunday, 05 November 2017 - 6:34PM
Space
Mars
NASA
Sunday, 05 November 2017 - 6:34PM
NASA's Mars 2020 Rover Will Be Equipped With Several Powerful 'Eyes'
NASA/JPL-Caltech
Despite all the love that NASA's Curiosity rover has gotten since its deployment, a newer model will be touching down on Mars in just a few years. Whether or not it will have its own Twitter account (like its predecessor) is yet to be determined, but the Mars 2020 rover is shaping up to be one of NASA's most advanced probes.

In a press release from earlier this week, NASA revealed that the 2020 rover will be covered in 23 highly advanced cameras, which were creepily referred to as its "eyes." Those shoggoth-like features aside, this is going to lead to some insanely impressive photos of the Martian surface - these are all 20-megapixel cameras, and there's even a few stereoscopic cameras for taking 3D photos.  

To put it into perspective, the Curiosity rover had only 17 cameras, while the previous Spirit and Opportunity rovers had only 10. So 23 cameras is a lot more eyes than ever before.
 
NASA/JPL-Caltech


And unlike the previous rovers, whose navcams would take several small photos which are then stitched together into usable images, these cameras are big enough to take a snapshot in one go. Combined with those 3D photos and the 2020 rover's attached microphones, we might soon have enough to make some realistic Mars virtual reality programs, which will come in handy depending on how quickly we end up sending humans there.

The biggest problem that NASA will face is, unsurprisingly, how to send photos that large back to Earth. Considering how slow internet speeds can be without leaving Earth, beaming back such large file sizes could pose a challenge. According to Justin Maki of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory:

Opening quote
"The limiting factor in most imaging systems is the telecommunications link. Cameras are capable of acquiring much more data than can be sent back to Earth."
Closing quote


To get around this, they have a few workarounds prepared, planning to try out some improved compression software, as well as taking advantage of their Mars Odyssey satellite that currently orbits the Red Planet as a data relay. It remains to be seen whether or not that will work, but there's reason to be confident that they'll get those photos back to Earth somehow, eventually.

The Mars 2020 rover, while still in construction, is expected to launch toward Mars in (no points for guessing) summer of the year 2020. It'll probably replace Curiosity's social media accounts around then too, so enjoy those while you can.

 
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