Curiosity, your sensors make me curious, who created them?

Seventeen Cameras on Curiosity
Graphic of Cameras on NASA's Curiosity rover.

This graphic shows the locations of the cameras on NASA’s Curiosity rover. The rover’s mast features seven cameras: the Remote Micro Imager, part of the Chemistry and Camera suite; four black-and-white Navigation Cameras (two on the left and two on the right) and two color Mast Cameras (Mastcams). The left Mastcam has a 34-millimeter lens and the right Mastcam has a 100-millimeter lens.

There is one camera on the end of a robotic arm that is stowed in this graphic; it is called the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI).

There are nine cameras hard-mounted to the rover: two pairs of black-and-white Hazard Avoidance Cameras in the front, another two pair mounted to the rear of the rover, (dashed arrows in the graphic) and the color Mars Descent Imager (MARDI).

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

From where do these sensors come? And what are they all for?

The image sensors for the Curiosity’s Navcams and Hazcams were built in our Bromont, Quebec, semiconductor foundry, as were those on the previous Spirit and Opportunity rovers. The hazard avoidance cameras are installed on each corner of the rover and the 3D stereoscopic navigation cameras are part of the rover’s camera mast.


These image sensors represent only a part of Teledyne’s overall contributions to the launch, landing, and operation of the mission. No fewer than five Teledyne companies contributed components crucial to the mission’s success


There is a very neat thing happening, whereby Camera is becoming the synecdoche of Imaging Sensors, no longer should that concept merely encompass CMOS and CCD sensors as now we are getting numerous imaging sensors based on sound waves, the idea
of using radiation sensors, gravimetrics,

The evolution of the CCD image sensor since it was invented at Bell Laboratories in 1969 has been a story of constant reduction in the size of the pixel. This is because, for a given optical format, reducing the pixel size increases the number of pixels and improves the resolution.
Currently, the CCD image sensor pixel size has been reduced to 1/100 of its size in 1987.

There is much to examine in relation to where imaging is going in general

First we should describe the imaging sensors aboard Curiosity.

The Mast Camera/Mastcam


The Mast Camera, or Mastcam for short, takes color images and color video footage of the Martian terrain.

The images can be stitched together to create panoramas of the landscape around the rover. Like the cameras on the Mars Exploration Rovers that landed on the red planet in 2004, the Mastcam design consists of two camera systems mounted on a mast extending upward from the Mars Science Laboratory rover deck (body). The Mastcam will be used to study the Martian landscape, rocks, and soils; to view frost and weather phenomena; and to support the driving and sampling operations of the rover.


Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI)

Second only to the rock hammer, the hand lens is an essential tool of human geologists. Usually carried on a string around the person’s neck, the hand lens helps a geologist in the field identify the minerals in a rock. The robotic geologist, Mars Science Laboratory, carries its own equivalent of the geologist’s hand lens, the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI).
MAHLI will provide earthbound scientists with close-up views of the minerals, textures, and structures in martian rocks and the surface layer of rocky debris and dust. The self-focusing, roughly 4-centimeter-wide (1.5-inch-wide) camera will take color images of features as small as 12.5 micrometers, smaller than the diameter of a human hair. MAHLI carries both white light sources, similar to the light from a flashlight, and ultraviolet light sources, similar to the light from a tanning lamp, making the imager functional both day and night. The ultraviolet light will be used to induce fluorescence to help detect carbonate and evaporite minerals, both of which indicate that water helped shape the landscape on Mars.

MAHLI’s main objective is to help the Mars Science Laboratory science team understand the geologic history of the landing site on Mars. MAHLI will also help researchers select samples for further investigation.


Descent Imager

(no, not a tool for taking screen shots of that old early 3-d space maneuvering game called Descent (though speculation that at least some NASA employees may just know a little something about that early flight sim)…

Knowing the location of loose debris, boulders, cliffs, and other features of the terrain is vital for planning the path of exploration now that the Mars Science Laboratory rover has landed on the red planet. The Mars Descent Imager took color video during the rover’s descent toward the surface, providing an “astronaut’s view” of the local environment. Watch a video of Curiosity’s Descent

Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS)

The Rover Environmental Monitoring Station will measure and provide daily and seasonal reports on atmospheric pressure, humidity, ultraviolet radiation at the Martian surface, wind speed and direction, air temperature, and ground temperature around the rover.

Weather Sensors from Spain on Mars Rover Curiosity
Sensors on two finger-like mini-booms extending horizontally from the mast of NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity will monitor wind speed, wind direction and air temperature. One also will monitor humidity; the other also will monitor ground temperature. The sensors are part of the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station, or REMS, provided by Spain for the Mars Science Laboratory mission.

In this image, the spacecraft specialist’s hands are just below one of the REMS mini-booms. The other mini-boom extends to the left a little farther up the mast. The image was taken during installation of the instrument in September 2011, inside a clean room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. REMS also includes an ultraviolet-light sensor on the rover deck and, inside the body of the rover, an air-pressure sensor and the instrument’s data recorder and electronic controls.

There is a great post by Emily Lakdawalla, over at the Planetary Society (/adds site to list of places to remember to visit!)

At last, Curiosity has attempted — and succeeded at — imaging REMS Boom 1.

Here’s a little background to explain why this was both necessary and difficult. REMS stands for the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station; it’s a large suite of instruments located all over the rover that measure weather-related data like wind speed, temperature, and pressure. REMS is the instrument suite that gives you daily weather reports from Mars. They’ve been doing great work.

In the only sad event that marred the triumphant day of landing, one small part of the REMS instrument suite failed to work properly: the wind sensor. The wind sensor suite consisted of two instruments on two short booms sticking out like pointy fingers from the rover’s mast. One of the booms (Boom 2) points forward, while the other boom points back and to the rover’s right (Boom 1). On each boom, there are three exposed circuit boards, connected together by two sections of flexible circuit, exposed to the Martian air. Based on the data they receive from the rover, the REMS team thinks that one or more of the circuit boards on Boom 1 was damaged during landing, perhaps by a flying bit of gravel like the ones that were visible on top of the rover deck after landing.

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