The Mars-bound Perseverance rover, set to launch this month, has seven science instruments that will investigate the Red Planet's surface and environment.

The panoramic cameras on Mastcam-Z  will determine the mineralogy of the Martian surface, for example. The SuperCam's rock-vaporizing laser will detect signs of past life.

A spectrometer known as "SHERLOC" (short for Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals ) provides fine-scale imaging and detects organic compounds. PIXL, also known as the Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL) , uses high-res imaging and X-ray fluorescence spectrometry will examine the elemental composition of Martian surface materials.

But what if one of the instruments goes down? Is there a backup for the Mastcam, SuperCam, SHERLOC, or PIXL?

In a live Tech Briefs presentation titled Mars 2020: The Legacy Continues for NASA Space Robotics, an attendee asked the following question to Los Alamos National Laboratory fellow and SuperCam researcher Roger Wiens:

  • "What kind of redundancy is built into the science instruments?"

Read Wiens's edited response below.

Roger Wiens: I believe all of the science instruments have two different processors, or two different sides, to their processors so that if something does go wrong in a part of the processing or the memory or electronics of the instrument, they can be switched over. And so, at least electronically, there is redundancy.

Roger Wiens and the SuperCam
Roger Wiens, next to the SuperCam

Then, if you think about some of the sensors themselves or sensor heads, yes, Mastcam has a redundancy in that there are stereo, or two, cameras, but you would lose the stereo feature if one of them were to go out. Mastcam is a scientific camera. We also have engineering cameras right next to Mastcam, called NavCam . They could act effectively as back-up stereo cameras for Mastcam, probably not calibrated. They don’t have the filter wheels and so on. They would provide some redundancy with Mastcam in the stereo department.

On SuperCam, we could degrade gracefully if something were to not work. We have three spectrometers for the optical signal from the LIBS  (Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy). If one were to go out, we could still get most of the elemental compositions. There are other parts of the instrument that have less redundancy.

On PIXL and SHERLOC, I’m a little bit less familiar with how much redundancy they might have in the sensor head. I’m quite sure that they have redundancy with their electronics.

In almost every case, we're doing what we can, where we can, to make duplicate parts, and then to make sure that if something does fail, we don’t lose everything.

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Listen to an interview with Roger Wiens in our Tech Briefs podcast series: Here's an Idea.

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