Skip to main content

NASA’s Perseverance rover has 23 different cameras. Here’s what they do

NASA’s latest Mars rover — Perseverance — is its most advanced to date, carrying with it a plethora of technology that includes a suite of 23 cameras.

We’ve already been treated to incredible footage from several of the cameras, captured as the rover approached the surface of the red planet on February 18, 2021. Within minutes of arriving at its landing site inside Jezero Crater, Perseverance also beamed several still images back to Earth, followed a few days later by its first high-quality pictures showing its new surroundings in astonishing detail.

As the cameras are set to play a key role in the rover’s two-year mission, we thought it would be a neat idea to find out a little more about the technology behind each device, and what we can expect from them as Perseverance sets about exploring the distant planet for signs of past life.


Landing cameras

Main role: Capture imagery both upwards and downwards during the rover’s descent through the Martian atmosphere.

The location of the cameras on the Mars 2020 spacecraft that captured Perseverance’s arrival on the Martian surface. NASA

The spacecraft carrying Perseverance used more than four high-definition cameras to capture the precarious descent to the surface of Mars. The footage (below) offered easily the best visuals of any of NASA’s five Mars landings to date, with the cameras carefully positioned to capture as much of the ride down as possible.

And the footage wasn’t just for the purpose of wowing space fans. It also provided engineers with vital information on precisely how the landing system behaved, which should help them design better spacecraft for future Mars missions.

Perseverance Rover’s Descent and Touchdown on Mars (Official NASA Video)

Parachute “up-look” cameras

These were mounted on the backshell of the spacecraft and pointed upward to capture parachute deployment and inflation. The footage offered engineers their first-ever look at how a parachute behaves in the thin Martian environment, enabling them to enhance the design for future missions.

Descent-stage “down-look” camera

Located on the spacecraft’s descent stage, this camera faced downward to capture footage of the rover being lowered by cables onto the Martian surface, though in the final moments, the vehicle was obscured by dust kicked up by the descent stage’s thrusters.

Rover “up-look” camera

Fixed to the deck of the rover, this upward-facing camera captured the descent stage during the crucial final moments prior to touchdown. Again, all of this footage will be useful by engineers designing future Mars spacecraft, one of which will bring the first astronauts to Mars.

Rover “down-look” camera

This camera was mounted beneath the rover and pointed straight at the ground. It recorded the effect of the descent stage’s thrusters on the dusty surface as the vehicle touched down.

Engineering cameras

Perseverance is NASA’s fifth Mars rover and arguably its most clever so far. Part of the new kit includes a new generation of engineering cameras (HazCam/NavCam/CacheCam) that will scan the ground for hazards, monitor the condition of the rover’s hardware, and support the collection of samples. The enhanced engineering cameras have the same camera body design, but each one has different lenses that are specifically designed for a unique task.

HazCams (Hazard Cameras)

Main role: Aid autonomous navigation

It was one of the rover’s six HazCams that beamed back the first images (below) from Perseverance following its dramatic landing on the red planet in February 2021. It also captured the moment the descent stage performed a controlled crash landing shortly after delivering Perseverance to the Martian surface.

One of the first images beamed back to Earth by Perseverance from inside Jezero Crater. Captured by a HazCam, one of the rover’s six wheels can be seen in the bottom right corner of the frame. Image used with permission by copyright holder

With Mars slightly out of range for AAA, the last thing NASA needs is for Perseverance to get stuck in a sand dune or drive into a rock. That’s where the HazCams come in. With four on the front and two on the back, these cameras are constantly looking out for any obstacles that appear in the rover’s path as it trundles across the surface of Mars.

Computer software automatically analyzes the HazCams’ 3D imagery and then uses this information to autonomously decide where to go. These self-driving smarts allow Perseverance to proceed without having to constantly consult team members back on Earth, though it’s the team that ultimately decides the rover’s main direction of travel over the course of its mission.

The HazCams also perform another vital role by helping engineers decide where to move Perseverance’s robotic arm when taking measurements and photos.

NavCams (Navigation Cameras)

Main role: Aid autonomous navigation

NASA’S Perseverance Rover’s First 360 View of Mars (Official)

Perseverance has two color stereo Navigation Cameras, or NavCams for short. They’re located about 16.5 inches (42 cm) apart at the top of the rover’s central mast and are part of the equipment that help the vehicle drive autonomously. According to NASA, the NavCams are advanced enough to spot an object as small as a golf ball from 82 feet (25 meters) away. They’re also providing some pretty awesome panoramas, like the one above captured just a few days into its Mars mission.


Main role: Take detailed images of gathered rock samples after they’ve been placed inside a sample tube.

Taken before the Mars mission, this CacheCam image shows some small rocks inside a sample tube. NASA

The CacheCam is located inside the rover’s underbelly at the top of the sample cache. It’ll be used to take pictures of rock and soil placed inside sample tubes by Perseverance during its explorations, with some of the material likely to be brought back to Earth during a future mission. The CacheCam will also enable scientists to keep a record of the type of material they’re gathering from the martian surface.

Science cameras

Perseverance’s advanced science cameras include Mastcam-Z, SuperCam, PIXL, SHERLOC, and Watson. Each one is designed to perform vital work that could help to determine if there was once life on Mars.


Main role: Take high-definition video, panoramic color photos, and 3D images of the Martian surface and features in the atmosphere

Mastcam-Z comprises two cameras (positioned between the NavCams) that offer a 360-degree view of the surroundings. It also includes a zoom function (yes, the “Z” stands for zoom,), though it’s rather more advanced than the one on your smartphone camera. In fact, according to NASA, Mastcam-Z “can see features as small as a housefly — all the way from a distance that’s about the length of a soccer field.”

Made up of 142 separate shots all taken by Mastcam-Z, the image below gives you a good idea of Mastcam-Z’s impressive power. Try hitting the “+” button to zoom in for greater detail, or go here to take the image full-screen.

With amazing technology like this, Mastcam-Z is also able to help scientists decide which areas merit further investigation in NASA’s search for evidence of past life.


Main role: Identify the chemical composition of rocks and soils, including their atomic and molecular makeup.

A close-up of the head of Perseverance Rover's remote sensing mast
A close-up of the head of Perseverance Rover’s remote sensing mast. The masthead contains the SuperCam instrument (its lens is in the large circular opening). In the gray boxes beneath the masthead are the two Mastcam-Z imagers. On the exterior sides of those imagers are the rover’s two NavCams. NASA/JPL-Caltech

Befitting of its name, the SuperCam is mounted at the very top of Perseverance’s mast, and contains some very impressive smarts. For starters, it’s capable of firing a laser, though thankfully it won’t be aiming at any martians we might come across. Instead, the laser will focus on mineral targets that the rover’s robotic arm is unable to reach.

When firing onto a tiny area of rock from a distance of around 20 feet (7 meters), the laser will cause the formation of a hot gas made up of free-floating ions and electrons. The SuperCam will then analyze the vaporized rock to discover its elemental composition. This procedure has the potential to uncover organic compounds that could also link to past life on Mars.

PIXL (Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry)

Main role: Measure the chemical makeup of rocks at a very fine scale

PIXL is found at the end of the rover’s robotic arm and uses X-rays to identify chemical elements in target spots that NASA says can be as small as a grain of table salt. PIXL includes a Micro-Context Camera that will provide images to help it correlate its elemental composition maps with visible characteristics of the target area.

SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals)

Main role: Fine-scale detection of minerals, organic molecules, and potential biosignatures

An engineering model of SHERLOC. NASA

SHERLOC, which is also located at the end of Perseverance’s robotic arm, incorporates cameras, spectrometers, and a laser. The device is looking for organics and minerals that have been altered by watery environments as it searches for signs of past microbial life. SHERLOC is also playing a key role in research into new spacesuits for the first human mission to Mars.

WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and Engineering)

Main role: Take close-up pictures of rock textures

With names like SHERLOC and WATSON, you don’t have to be a super-sleuth to work out that these two cameras are working together during the Mars mission.

Like SHERLOC, WATSON is also found at the end of the rover’s robotic arm. The color camera is designed to provide scientists with data on the textures and structures of Martian rocks. “WATSON captures the images that bridge the scale from the very detailed images and maps that SHERLOC collects of Martian minerals and organics, to the broader scales that SuperCam and Mastcam-Z observe from the mast,” NASA said.

With so many cameras and other scientific equipment aboard the rover, Perseverance is certain to make some fascinating discoveries as it explores the martian surface during its two-year mission. So be sure to check back for updates.

Editors' Recommendations

Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
Astronauts test new moon camera for upcoming Artemis mission
Astronaut Thomas Pesquet tests the moon camera in the lunar-like landscapes of Lanzarote, Spain.

Astronaut Thomas Pesquet tests the moon camera in Lanzarote, Spain. ESA

In 2025, NASA is planning to land the first astronauts on the lunar surface in more than 50 years.

Read more
Sony camera Black Friday deals: Save on camera body and lenses

The deals season has officially started and Black Friday deals are coming out of the woodwork to get us items that we might normally pass on. And if there is one company that has been dominating again and again this year, it is Sony. We've seen flush rosters of Sony Black Friday deals, such as Sony headphones and earbuds deals where you can get a pair of headphones for as low as $10. Meanwhile, Black Friday Sony TV deals are getting us up to a thousand dollars off on an 8K TV. So, the big question becomes, what are photographers getting from Sony this year?

We've already seen the Sony brand pop up in the mirrorless and point and shoot categories for our investigation of the best Black Friday camera deals. Now, we wish to go more in depth and see what else we can snag from the brand, including lenses. If you're not set on a Sony, there are great GoPro Black Friday deals, Nikon Black Friday deals, and Canon Black Friday deals available as well.
Best Sony body Black Friday deals

Read more
Sony Alpha 7R V mirrorless camera is $400 off for Black Friday
sony alpha 7r v mirrorless camera deal best buy november 2023 release render

If you're thinking about getting a new mirrorless camera from this year's Black Friday deals, here's an offer that you shouldn't pass up -- the Sony Alpha 7R V for $3,500, following a $400 discount from Best Buy on its sticker price of $3,900. It's still not affordable with the savings, but this mirrorless camera will quickly prove that it's worth every single penny. We're not sure how much time remains before its price goes back to normal though, so if you don't want to miss out on what we think will turn out to be one of the most popular Sony camera Black Friday deals, you know what to do -- add it to your cart and check out immediately.

Why you should buy the Sony Alpha 7R V mirrorless camera
Among the benefits of a mirrorless camera is they're less bulky because of the absence of the mirror found in a DSLR, so instead of an optical viewfinder, you'll compose your shots on an electronic viewfinder or an LCD screen, according to our digital camera buying guide. You'll get these with the Sony Alpha 7R V and more, as it's capable of recording 8K 24p/25p and 4K 60p/50p video, and taking 61MP photos. It's powered by the Bionz XR image processor, which can process massive amounts of image data while reducing latency.

Read more