Design and fabrication of a modern, compact, highly modular, and extreme-environment-capable replacement have been proposed for the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) camera. This next-generation camera is based on a CMOS (complementary metal-oxidesemiconductor) imager rather than a CCD (charge-coupled device) imager, and will provide similar image quality to the MER cameras. At the same time, the NIC will enjoy a higher readout speed, operate over a wider temperature range (–135 °C to 125 °C), and cost less to fabricate while seeing a 10× reduction in mass, size, component count, and power consumption of the camera.

The custom CMOS imager developed for the NIC prototype will integrate the support functions on-chip, reducing the required support electronics to a few passive resistors and capacitors. It will also incorporate a custom interface to reduce wire count to a few cables. Additionally, self-biasing circuitry will be incorporated to reduce temperature sensitivity. This will allow the camera to be about the size of a 35-mm film canister (or roughly 2 cm in diameter and 3 cm long), with low mass (<20 g), low power (on the order of 100 mW), and relatively low cost.

This work was done by Colin McKinney, Jeremy A. Yager, Zachary W. Pannell, Bruce R. Hancock, Thomas J. Cunningham, Jeffrey A. Hayden, Holly A. Bender, and James B. Coles of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. NPO-48821


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This article first appeared in the July, 2015 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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