More on the Mars Science Laboratory “Curiosity” rover

Curiosity rover

Curiosity or the Mars Science Laboratory is now on Martian soil – and all of us already knew that, right? What we don’t know though is if all its instruments are working properly but let’s hope for the best.

Speaking of instruments, Curiosity is the most advanced rover ever sent on Mars. It has numerous cameras for different functions and a plethora of instruments to carry out experiments that have never been done on the Red Planet. So as we wait for more information from NASA, let’s do a rundown on what these cameras and instruments are.

An overview of Curiosity's cameras

Curiosity has a mast supporting seven cameras:

  • a Remote Micro Imager, which is a part of the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) complex. It enables laser-induced remote sensing of chemistry and micro-imaging.
  • four monochrome Navigation Cameras (NavCams) – two on the left, and another two on the right. These are, obviously, used for navigating the rover on the ground.
  • and two color Mast Cameras (MastCams). The right camera has a 100mm lens while the one on the left uses a 34mm lens which will be used to take photographs and panoramas of the Martian landscape. They are capable of true colors and photographs of multiple spectra.

The body of the rover has four monochrome Hazard Avoidance Cameras (HazCams) two in front and two at the rear. I believe the first images sent by the rover came from the left rear HazCam but I could be wrong. As the name implies, HazCams are used to avoid paths and objects that could jeopardize the rover’s mobility and instrumentation. Another camera called Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) was mapped the surrounding terrain during the final landing procedure – the sky crane – to drop the rover at the right spot

Finally there’s the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) which is located at the arm (stowed in the graphic above but deployed in the first image on this post) which can acquire microscopic images of rock and soil.

Note that the MastCams, MARDI and MAHLI share a common design and components such as a 1600 x 1200 CCD high resolution imager.

The Curiosity rover has the following instruments:

  • a Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) measures a broad spectrum of radiation inside the spacecraft. It was switched on while it was en route to Mars and will also be used on the surface of the planet. RAD will assess the viability and the shielding required by future manned missions. It was the first of the ten instruments to be switched on.
  • an Alpha-particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) will determine the elemental composition of samples by mapping the spectra of X-rays that are re-emitted after irradiating samples with Alpha-particles.
  • Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) X-ray diffraction and X-ray fluorescence instruments which will identify and quantify the abundance of minerals on Mars.
  • a Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) is composed of sensors that measure humidity, barometric pressure, temperature, wind speed and ultraviolet radiation.
  • Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN), which is a pulsed neutron source for detecting and measuring water and ice at or near the Martian surface.
  • and finally a Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) will analyze organics and gases from atmospheric and solid samples.

Using the instrumentation above, Curiosity has four specific scientific goals:

  1. Determine whether the Red Planet ever did or is currently supporting life.
  2. Study the climate of Mars.
  3. Study the geology of Mars.
  4. Plan for a human mission to Mars.

Curiosity is designed to do its mission for a span of 2 years although, if things go pretty well, we might see it work as long as Opportunity which has been active since 2004 and is still functional to this day. I’m hoping all of Curiosity’s instrument are still functional so that it can do its mission without issues and for it to exceed its expected operational time much like it’s predecessors.

Before I go here is another photo taken by one of Curiosity’s HazCams but this time without the protective clear cover.

A photograph taken from one of the HazCams without the clear protective cover

And here’s a video from mission control right at the moment of touchdown:

 

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