The Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity, is designed to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support life by deploying the most advanced set of scientific instruments ever sent to the planet. As part of that instrument suite, all four science cameras on the rover are designed using image sensors from Truesense Imaging to capture high-resolution color images of the planet.
The four different cameras are:
- The Mars Descent Imager (MARDI), active during the rover’s descent, captured hundreds of natural color images of the planet’s surface to provide an initial visual framework of the landing site for early operations.
- The Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) captures close-up color images of Martian rocks and surface material at a resolution of up to 14.4 μm per pixel — enough to detect an object smaller than the width of a human hair.
- The Mast Camera (MastCam), the imaging “workhorse” of the rover, captures high-resolution color images of the terrain explored by the rover. This system is comprised of two separate cameras that use lenses of different focal lengths, allowing detailed images to be captured of objects both near to and far from the rover. As an example, MastCam-100, which uses a 100-mm lens to capture images far from the rover, can detect an object about the size of two golf balls from a distance of 1 km.
All four cameras are based on the KAI-2020 Image Sensor, a 2-megapixel (1600 x 1200 pixel) Interline Transfer CCD that provides high dynamic range, low dark current, and electronic shutter with precise exposure control. The cameras all capture images in full color at over 4 full resolution images per second, while the MastCam cameras can provide full-color 720p highdefinition video (1280 x 720 pixels) at 6 fps.
Curiosity is the second Mars rover to use image sensors from Truesense Imaging. In 1997, KAI-0371 Image Sensors served as the “eyes” of Mars Pathfinder’s Sojourner, the first rover to explore the surface of Mars. Today, image sensors from Truesense Imaging are used in three different orbiters around Mars, as well as orbiters around both Venus and the Moon.
KAI-2020 Image Sensor
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