HD colour sensors to capture images of Mars

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Image sensors from Truesense Imaging are set to capture high definition colour images from the surface of Mars when NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover Curiosity lands on the planet on 6 August.

Curiosity is designed to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support life. As part of its instrument suite, all four science cameras on the rover are designed using image sensors from Truesense Imaging to capture high resolution colour images of the planet.

‘As with all our spaceflight cameras, these cameras for Curiosity have to take high quality images under very challenging conditions,’ said Michael Ravine, advanced projects manager at Malin Space Science Systems. ‘Based on our past experience with Truesense Imaging CCDs – we’ve used them on eight different deep space cameras before MSL – we knew they would provide the performance and reliability we needed for a multi-year Mars surface mission. We’re looking forward to receiving the first colour images of the spectacular Gale Crater landing site.’

Four different cameras on Curiosity use the KAI-2020 image sensor to capture high resolution images of Mars during this mission. The Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) will be active during the rover’s descent, capturing hundreds of natural colour 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) will capture close-up colour images of Martian rocks and surface material at a resolution of up to 14.4μm per pixel.

Finally, the Mast Camera (MastCam), the imaging workhorse of the rover, will capture high resolution colour 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.

All four of these cameras are based on the KAI-2020 image sensor, a 2 Megapixel (1,600 x 1,200 pixel) Interline Transfer CCD that provides high dynamic range, low dark current, and electronic shutter with precise exposure control.

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