Marcel Proust once said, “The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” When that landscape is 165 million miles away, those new eyes are likely to be image sensors mounted in high-resolution cameras. Such is the case with the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity, now exploring the Martian landscape using four camera “eyes” to capture color images of the Red Planet.
Each camera on Curiosity uses a KAI-2020 image sensor made by Truesense Imaging Inc. in Rochester, N. Y. The KAI-2020 can capture a full 2-megapixel image (1,600 × 1,200 pixels) using an interline-transfer CCD with high dynamic range, low dark current, and an electronic shutter that provides precise exposure control.
Each of the four cameras supports a different phase of Curiosity’s mission. The Mars descent imager was active during the rover’s descent, capturing hundreds of natural-color images of the planet’s surface to give NASA an initial visual framework of the landing site for early operations.
The hand lens imager will take close-up color images of rocks and surface material at resolutions up to 14.4 µm per pixel. That resolution level permits detection of objects smaller than the width of a human hair.
Finally, the Mast Camera carries two separate cameras that use lenses of different focal lengths for objects near and far. MastCam-34 uses a fixed 34-mm focal-length lens while the MastCam-100 lens focal length is fixed at 100 mm. At that length, the MastCam-100 can detect objects about the size of a baseball at a distance of 0.6 miles. The MastCam is the imaging workhorse of the rover and will be used to take color, multispectral color, stereo, and high-definition video views of the terrain explored by Curiosity.
All cameras can capture images in full color at over four full-resolution frames-per-second. The MastCam cameras can also capture full-color 720p high-definition video (1,280 × 720 pixels) at 6 fps.