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Engineers test Mars 2020 rover’s vision, find it is 20/20

In this image, engineers test cameras on the top of the Mars 2020 rover’s mast and front chassis. The image was taken on July 23, 2019, in the Spacecraft Assembly Facility’s High Bay 1 at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover has been been given an unusual eye exam to test the cameras it will use to “see” and navigate around the Martian surface. There are a large number of cameras on board the rover for different purposes, including two Navcams, four Hazcams, the SuperCam and two Mastcam-Z cameras mounted to the rover’s central mast.

The Navcams, as the name suggests, are for navigation and collecting 3D panoramic information so the rover can find the best route through the rough Martian terrain. These cameras also work alongside the Hazcams, which are part of the rover’s self-driving system for avoiding hazards.  The SuperCam is for the scientific investigation of rock and soil samples, and the Mastcam-Zs are for observing rocks and sediment within the rover’s field of view, which could help gather valuable geological data.

In order to test that the cameras were working correctly, the NASA engineers used an image testing board covered in a grid of dots, which you can see above on the right side of the image. The testing board is placed at different distances away from the rover, from one meter to 40 meters, and the engineers test whether the cameras capture the dots with the required resolution and accuracy.

“We tested every camera on the front of the rover chassis and also those mounted on the mast,” Justin Maki, chief engineer for imaging and the imaging scientist for Mars 2020 at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, said in a statement. “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.”

The JPL team still needs to test the cameras on the back of the rover and the one on the end of its turret, which is scheduled to happen in the next few weeks. All of this preparation is getting the rover ready during its last year of engineering before launch, planned for July 2020.

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Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
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