Previous news story    Next news story

Mars rover camera project manager explains 2MP camera choice

By dpreview staff on Aug 8, 2012 at 22:20 GMT

A number of factors led to the use of 2MP sensors in the main imaging cameras used on NASA's Mars rover, Curiosity, says the project manager responsible for their development. The slow data rates available for broadcasting images back to Earth and the team's familiarity with that family of sensors played a part, says Malin Space Science Systems' Mike Ravine, but the biggest factor was the specifications being fixed as far back as 2004. Multi-shot panoramas will see the cameras deliver high-res images, he explains, but not the 3D movies Hollywood director James Cameron had wanted.

'There's a popular belief that projects like this are going to be very advanced but there are things that mitigate against that. These designs were proposed in 2004, and you don't get to propose one specification and then go off and develop something else. 2MP with 8GB of flash [memory] didn't sound too bad in 2004. But it doesn't compare well to what you get in an iPhone today.'

The 34mm (115mm equiv.) Mastcam from the Curiosity rover - developed by Mike Ravine and his team at Malin Space Science Systems.

The first consideration when choosing a sensor was the amount of data it would produce.

There are three ways for Curiosity, to broadcast data back to Earth - but it's only the UHF transmitter that can be used for transmitting the amounts of data required for sending back images. 'The UHF antenna transmits to two spacecraft orbiting Mars, which relay the results back to Earth. That's where most of the data is coming from. It gives us on the order of 250 megabits per day, and that's got to be shared between a bunch of instruments, so there's not much bandwidth for the cameras.' Ravine explains.

Another factor was that the same sensor had to meet the needs of four different cameras (MAHLI, the two Mastcams and MARDI, the camera tasked with capturing the rover's descent to the planets' surface). 'Everything in a project like this is sensitive to price and risk, both real and perceived. The cameras differ in terms of their optics, but by building them around a single platform, we didn't have to re-test and qualify each of them separately. This makes them more dependable and less expensive than if you have to do it four times.'

'We developed all four cameras around a common architecture so the choice of sensor was hedged across all of them. We wanted to be able to capture high frame rates, particularly with the descent camera.' he explains. MARDI, the downwards-pointing 'descent camera' had just a two-minute descent to the planet's surface, so a high frame rate was essential. The KAI-2020 chip was the smallest Kodak made capable of 720p HD video. 'We also looked at a 4MP sensor but it would have run around half as fast. And the state of CMOS sensors wasn't credible in 2004. They're an interesting option now, but they weren't then.'

The initial thumbnail image from the MARDI descent camera, showing the heat shield dropping away, just before the final descent begins. Click here to see a video of the heat shield falling away, based on these thumbnail images.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The other advantage of the Truesense Imaging chips was the team's familiarity with their behavior. 'We've built-up decades of cumulative experience of working with Kodak and now Truesense interline sensors. We know how to clock them and drive them - they're a very easy CCD to drive,' says Ravine. A similar level of confidence was needed for the cameras’ memory, he says: 'the flash we ended up using was because we had a lot of radiation test data for it.'

 The full-resolution image, released August 8th, giving a clearer idea of what the 2MP cameras onboard the Curiosity rover with be capable of.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

And the low (by modern standards) pixel count needn't be a problem, Ravine says, since the Mastcams will produce stitched images from multiple exposures. 'A mosaic produced from a higher pixel count camera wouldn't offer huge benefits over what we'll be getting.'

Ravine is understandably proud of the work his team has contributed to the project, on the day the rover's mast is raised for the first time: 'We're getting pictures from Mars,' he points out. But it's not hard to detect a note of disappointment in his voice when he mentions the zoom lenses that were being prepared for the project: 'they're currently sitting in a container on the other side of the building.'

Sadly, the cancellation of the zoom lens project for MSL means that it won't produce the 3D footage the team originally hoped for. 'They were going to be 6.5-100mm zoom lenses, which would allow us to set them both to the same focal length for capturing stereo images,' he says. However, problems designing the lens without using wet lubricants (which would require battery-sapping heating to ensure continued operation in Mars' extremely low temperatures), proved difficult and the development was halted.

The benefits of stitching: a two-image panorama shot with the rover's 1024 x 1024 mono navigation cameras. The Mastcams should produce higher-resolution, color images.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Hollywood director James Cameron was part of the team and successfully lobbied NASA to re-start the zoom project, with talk of 3D movies showing Curiosity's progress across the Martian landscape. Sadly, although the project was re-started, even Cameron's enthusiasm wasn't enough to ensure they'd be ready in time. 'We're going to get some great mosaics with the focal lengths we've got, but we're not going to get the wide-field cinematic moments or the 3D movies from Mars that Cameron wanted.'

Another perspective - polar projection of the rover's deck and its surroundings. The image is composed of low-res thumbnails, except the two full res panels used in the image further up the page.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Comments

Total comments: 187
12
clear glass
By clear glass (Nov 2, 2012)

How did the Rover take a picture of itself from a camera on a jointed arm (I assume) without showing part of the arm? Was the arm that raised the camera above the Rover extended so circuitously that it's out of the picture or in a blind spot? Is this a duh question?

1 upvote
Biowizard
By Biowizard (Nov 8, 2012)

It's only semi-duh, inasmuch as I wondered the same thing about the high-res image shown elsewhere on dPreview - then I figured it: as this is a stitched mosaic, all they have to do is use parts of the image that DON'T include the robotic arm - and et voila, it's gone!

0 upvotes
BobYIL
By BobYIL (Nov 2, 2012)

IMHO, one of the reasons to employ rather low MP sensors could be the limitation of the transmission speed assigned for image transfer, taking into account that there are 17 (!) cameras functioning. Also, probably the greatest portion of the transmision capacity is to be used by the other scientific sensors and probes collecting data. (BTW I have checked the panorama posted by the preceding poster, the resolution leaves nothing to desire.)

0 upvotes
Michael Dodge Thomas
By Michael Dodge Thomas (Sep 1, 2012)

An example of the IQ that can be achieved with the camera:

http://www.panoramas.dk/mars/curiosity-first-color-360.html

1 upvote
xlynx9
By xlynx9 (Aug 23, 2012)

Screw James Cameron. This is a science mission. Keep your movie making in Hollywood (though a certain amount of "cool stuff for the masses" from NASA is probably vital to continued funding).

0 upvotes
EasyClick
By EasyClick (Aug 15, 2012)

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isnt NASA supposed to have technology decades ahead of what's available on the market? They're the guys inventing the science and breakthrough technology...By the same reasoning they should have a photo sensor that would only be available today on the market. I understand the article but I just thought otherwise... Maybe someone should send an iPhone to Mars??

0 upvotes
JensR
By JensR (Aug 15, 2012)

This is the real world, not Hollywood.
An iphone would not make it past the moon before radiation kills it.

1 upvote
mblg
By mblg (Aug 15, 2012)

>They're the guys inventing the science and breakthrough technology...
Nope. Germans were. Russians too. Google "Wernher von Braun", for example.
NASA had much more money to spend. That's all.

0 upvotes
attomole
By attomole (Aug 16, 2012)

Your Wrong, and i correct you, as an engineer you build device suitable to do the job in your specifications. If that component is pre-existing you use it, why spend money on anything else?

If that component does not exist, and in the early days of the space programme thats just about everything, you have to go away and build those components and design new materials to build them with.

Possibly our imaginations are to polluted by science fiction, people here just seem to refuse to understand what is being told them, The cameras on board are up to spec. The resolution you need will be defined by what level of detail you require to do the mission.

There is more than one way to achieve resolution if you need it, for instance walk up to a thing and take a close up.

2 upvotes
hc44
By hc44 (Aug 16, 2012)

Of course NASA aren't investing in semi-conductor fabrication plants just for the sake of a space camera when the part itself has wide spread use outside of space exploration and hence is already manufactured to the best quality which present progress allows. Though one can ask why they chose the 2MP version when 11MP cameras were sitting in retail stores, that's the what this discussion is mostly about.

0 upvotes
Dario D
By Dario D (Aug 14, 2012)

Unlike a lot of commenters, I trust that the Curiosity guys are making their camera decisions for logical reasons.

About the overall approach, though, I'm wondering if Kate Piecrust has a good point. She said:
"I also find it interesting that a Mars probe ten years from now will, based on how things are done at NASA, likely be sporting the technology available today (...)"

If that's true, NASA might want to examine that, and see if there isn't a more future-proof way to approach this stuff.

(Heck, if it could technically work, there could just be a row of slots in the next rover's arm, ready to have a bunch of top-level phones duct-taped into them. (When one dies, it gets ejected.) To keep things simple, and isolated from the rest of the bot, each phone would have its own tiny solar panel, and an antennae to send its images to the MRO/whatever. (Of course, this is all oversimplified, but I'm of the impression that simplicity is an engineer's main thing. I'd send a camera Barbie.))

Comment edited 6 minutes after posting
1 upvote
hc44
By hc44 (Aug 15, 2012)

You're quoting the user who doesn't get that resolution and field of view are two quite different things.

The suggestion that NASA must make all the right decisions because they're NASA made by you and others is purely an appeal to authority. Give NASA's size and bureaucracy they will sometimes make decisions which are less than ideal - why must this decision not be one of them? No one here can say so, they just assume their own ignorance is shared by others so no one else here is qualified to place a critical eye on the decision.

0 upvotes
Dario D
By Dario D (Sep 1, 2012)

Well, I'm not saying NASA must make the right decisions just because they're NASA. ;) Like I suggested, there's a good chance it's the *wrong* decision, just that it's made with actual reasoning behind it, not the wild idiocy that some seem to imply. It's like in sports: the coach makes an informed, probably very smart decision, but who's to say it's the RIGHT one? Then, when things go south, the commentators/fans want to lynch the coach, as if he did something *wrong*.

I certainly don't know that NASA did anything wrong here. I'm just saying: I hope they examine their methodology, and make certain they're going in the right direction, for next time. Sending a $2.5 billion probe to Mars with an 8 year-old camera on it sounds a little... off.

Comment edited 3 times, last edit 6 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
Dario D
By Dario D (Sep 1, 2012)

By the way, this panorama looks great: http://www.panoramas.dk/mars/curiosity-first-color-360.html
(tons of still images stitched together)

Comment edited 20 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
Scott Eaton
By Scott Eaton (Aug 13, 2012)

I'm not by any means a NASA engineer, but I am an Engineer on the IT side of things. I realize we're working with extreme data management constraints and 2004 technology curves.

My issue is why we're using a bayer based sensor when we want the most discrete data to come from our hardware. Why waste data pathing with all that interpolated nonsese just because somebody is more familiar with Kodak. We're taking pictures of other worlds, not snaphots of your kids.

Here's to hoping Kodak is out of business so they are forced to use better hardware the next time around.

0 upvotes
JensR
By JensR (Aug 15, 2012)

I guess using three 0.7MP sensors, one for each colour would be better than using one 2MP sensor, but the alignment problems during the rough entry of the spacecraft might have been problematic.
I hope you were not suggesting a Foveon chip as a way to discrete data :)

0 upvotes
Branko Dimitrijevic
By Branko Dimitrijevic (Aug 17, 2012)

There is no reason to transfer the interpolated data. You just transfer the sensed data and do the interpolation off-site (i.e. on Earth).

0 upvotes
CuriosityMSL
By CuriosityMSL (Aug 13, 2012)

No go on the 3D movies sorry, as the Martians have been sucking up all the bandwidth watching the Olympics in HD :p

2 upvotes
thlc
By thlc (Aug 15, 2012)

nice!!

0 upvotes
YeboAnt
By YeboAnt (Aug 13, 2012)

If they could have 100Mbit per day for the photos, they could choose to send back a single 12MB picture per day, sounds like that is what people perfer, not many low res photos. Maybe NASA did not go there only to get 3D movie footage for James Cameron, but to explore space.

0 upvotes
SvobodaT
By SvobodaT (Aug 12, 2012)

Well guys I can well remember planning a Mars camera in 1987 with awesome resolution of 512*512 pixels *8bit depth.
2MP is very good :-) by my standards.

Comment edited 4 minutes after posting
2 upvotes
GirinoFumetto
By GirinoFumetto (Aug 12, 2012)

I heard that Nasa engineers are very depressed after reading these comments! They will never again go to Mars without an iPod.

0 upvotes
Wildbegonia
By Wildbegonia (Aug 12, 2012)

Guys, never mind to get more pixels, this is the thinking that took to get a camera in another planet. Click here : http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap120731.html

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
0 upvotes
philippaopao
By philippaopao (Aug 12, 2012)

To quote a commenter from another site, "Pixel-peeping has finally reached Mars!"

Oh well, I bet when NASA sends a higher megapixel camera on mars, or even on another planet, people will still complain about resolution.

3 upvotes
Ben O Connor
By Ben O Connor (Aug 11, 2012)

NASA just use your imagination in your next missions:

Use a Nikon D800 cam and get crazy much of Nikon sponsor money.
Attach its USB III port to an Iphone and let the Jobs rest in peace.
Even get a deal with a mobile company who supports those MMS to your base.
If the fuel price bothers call Richard Branson and give rocket name "Virgin"
Even make the whole rocket like a MARS chocklate pocket and get hell money from craft foods XD

YEah, i guess NASA scientist nowadays thinks "good all days" abvout cold war time.

0 upvotes
Ben O Connor
By Ben O Connor (Aug 11, 2012)

Well also consider that there is nothing worth to take a quality foto on mars.

No longer shutter pose for a river bed
No need for macro for a beautifull orchid
No timelapse need for changing seasons and changing color of beautifull trees.
No need to take a portait of this crappy alien (which is not there even :)

So i kinda understand those people better now
:))

0 upvotes
KeFun
By KeFun (Aug 16, 2012)

In fairness to NASA, they couldn't launch an off-the-shelf camera even if they wanted to. It simply wouldn't survive the mission. The cameras that go to Mars must survive severe shock and vibration, sustained G loads, sustained high doses of radiation, and thousands of 100ºC temperature cycles on Mars, among other hazards. I had someone say to me "Why didn't they just take a GoPro to Mars?" I said to them "Why didn't you take a Curiosity Hazcam on your hike?" If you want durability the cameras on the Curiosity rover are hard to beat. :)

1 upvote
CristianoSecci
By CristianoSecci (Aug 11, 2012)

Robert Capa said: "If your photographs aren't good enough, you're not close enough". Well, I think those 2MP shots ARE good enough, as long as they're taken 1 mt close to the Mars surface... Don't you think? ;-)

0 upvotes
Ran Plett
By Ran Plett (Aug 11, 2012)

I just want to say one thing... They put this machine on another planet. And they are taking pictures and sending them back to this planet. From another @#$$% planet!! And some people complain about pixel count?!

9 upvotes
hc44
By hc44 (Aug 12, 2012)

Yep. You sent this $*#&$ thing to another &#&#*# planet! Another planet! And you spent $%#$@ billion dollars!!

Why the @#$# did you only put a 2 megapixel @*#&%^$ sensor on it!!???

0 upvotes
Wildbegonia
By Wildbegonia (Aug 12, 2012)

Never mind about pixels. This is what it took to get there. Sheer brains, and you guys wonder about pixels? http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap120731.html

Comment edited 9 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
Wildbegonia
By Wildbegonia (Aug 12, 2012)

Yeah! Go and figure. Kind of thinking "big is better" instead of "sometimes, less is more". I wonder how many pixelless dpreview members commenting here too a little time to find out about the effort and brain work it took to make it up there. Here is a micro hint: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap120731.html

0 upvotes
Edmond Leung
By Edmond Leung (Aug 11, 2012)

Shooting by 2 MP on Mars is much much better than shooting the Mars on Earth with a 2,000 MP camera!
Don't complain too much if you cannot shot a better Mars photo than Curiosity.
It makes no sense by just dreaming the pixel count.

1 upvote
jedinstvo
By jedinstvo (Aug 10, 2012)

Fortunately, there are ten thousand dweeb experts on DPR who can tell NASA where they went wrong....and how they could have avoided this costly mistake by shooting pictures of a cat on a couch during the camera's development.

7 upvotes
Wildbegonia
By Wildbegonia (Aug 12, 2012)

Jijiji, love it!

0 upvotes
Skrie
By Skrie (Aug 10, 2012)

2 Megapixels in 2004 ? Sorry, but this shows that we as a human race will never leave this planet, EVER. Not in a 20000 years. Might as well quit right now and spend all our money on chinese food and beer.

0 upvotes
wutsurstyle
By wutsurstyle (Aug 10, 2012)

Amazing..especially planning for an event 8 years in the future. And here I sit with my brand new Olympus TG-1 iHS rugged camera thinking its tough. These cams on Curiousity are Out-of-this-world tough. Literally!

1 upvote
JonMerel
By JonMerel (Aug 10, 2012)

By the way it is 250 megabits and not megabytes.
250 megabits = 30 megabytes.
Just enough for one RAW photo per day, by today standards.

Long life Curiosity!

Comment edited 22 seconds after posting
5 upvotes
elave
By elave (Aug 10, 2012)

I did not though of the fact that it was designed in 2004!!! ... that makes me fell even more confident that nasa got it right!. Slow bandwith combined with hazardous environment results in the 2MP being the right choice.

Snap on little rover, snap on!

0 upvotes
Ivan Voras
By Ivan Voras (Aug 10, 2012)

I hope that next time someone has the good sense to just go and buy that 38 MP sensor from Nokia for $500 and stick it somewhere on the rover. It doesn't have to be the "master camera", it doesn't need to be heavily advertised - they can call it an "auxiliary photon sensor" or something silly like that, it doesn't have to be mounted on a special robot hand or have fancy optics - whatever piece of gorilla glass Nokia stuck in there will work just fine, but when there's some Really Interesting Rock they want to look at, or hopefully even some moss or lichen, that is when that sensor will come to be really handy. And as a bonus, nobody will care if a $500 piece of electronics weighing next to nothing breaks 6 months after landing or looses 50% sensor pixels after being exposed to radiation for a year.

3 upvotes
William Blair
By William Blair (Aug 10, 2012)

You might want to read the article again. First, one can't just slap on electronic hardware of any kind to the spacecraft without extensive testing because a malfunction in that hardware could jeopardize the entire mission (ex., electrical shorts). Second, I'm sure the sensor you want isn't space spec. with regards to temperature and radiation tolerance. Third, and most significantly, the data pipe from the rover to earth greatly limits the amount of data that can be transferred.

Comment edited 7 minutes after posting
8 upvotes
wkay
By wkay (Aug 10, 2012)

what makes you think it can tolerate the environment? if the thing fails then another instrument was sacrificed along with the budget. you have a lot to learn about engineering applications like this.

0 upvotes
Christian3
By Christian3 (Aug 10, 2012)

Okaaaaaaaaaaaay !

Nevertheless, the Ivan's approach is very interesting.

0 upvotes
hc44
By hc44 (Aug 11, 2012)

Perhaps slightly tongue in cheek this post?

0 upvotes
Wildbegonia
By Wildbegonia (Aug 12, 2012)

Before expending those ¥/$500.oo, you have to figure how to get it up there: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap120731.html

0 upvotes
Thorbard
By Thorbard (Aug 13, 2012)

When there is a "really interesting rock" that they want to look at, they can drive over to it and take a photo. It already has a variety of macro and telephoto lenses, a laser beam, a drill and a science lab built in for taking a look at those "really interesting rocks".

Why tack on a camera that adds no useful abilities?

0 upvotes
hc44
By hc44 (Aug 10, 2012)

I'm gonna go against the grain here and say it's a compromise which didn't have to be made. You shouldn't have to re-invent the whole camera because of a sensor change. A sensor can be though of in abstract terms as a plug-able component with a fixed I/O interface. Resolution can be a variable which the rest of the camera can be made to work with as a variable. A hi-res raw image can be down scaled, sometimes you send the hi sometimes the low, you have the option. The engineers shot themselves in the foot when they began the project allowing for a fixed res sensor only, and did so knowing technology advances. In the 60s the Apollo project got a man on the moon in under a decade, imagine how fast pasted their project was, but now they can't change a camera sensor in the space of 8 years.

7 upvotes
Andy Turner
By Andy Turner (Aug 10, 2012)

I reckon there's factors in this that you don't even realise or understand. This *is* rocket science after all. A given sensor would have to go through tons of testing before it could be deemed reliable and suitable.

7 upvotes
elave
By elave (Aug 10, 2012)

and also the camera is a tiny part of the whole mars rover mission!!. They put it down on a freaking sky crane!!!! do you know the complexity of that!!!! not bouilding it but controlling that. You have a multi link system with non rigid unions. A non-linear control nightmare!!!!!!! The launch rocket, the main engine burst to break earth gravity, getting to a stable mars orbit, descending without burning up, decelerating without crashing the whole ship like one of the previous mars missions, deploying the awesome sky crane, touching down .... etc etc etc!!!!!!!! Every piece has to work, all the lab sensors, anntenas, power generation etc etc etc ... they can't leave stuff to be solved in the future just in case the technology advances .... you have a problem, you need a solution that will work 999 out of 1000 times! Period!. I just wished more money would go in space exploration instead on military budget.

0 upvotes
hc44
By hc44 (Aug 12, 2012)

"The EOS-1Ds is a full-frame 11.4 megapixel digital SLR camera body formerly made by Canon, released in the spring of 2003."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canon_EOS-1Ds

0 upvotes
hc44
By hc44 (Aug 12, 2012)

"Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) is a robotic space probe mission to Mars launched by NASA on November 26, 2011"

0 upvotes
BaconBit
By BaconBit (Aug 14, 2012)

The people who have been designing this vehicle are among the smartest people in the country, without a doubt. I'm sure that if there was truly a better way to have gone about doing this, they would have done it. There is a lot of bureaucracy at NASA, there could have been factors completely unrelated to scientific feasibility.

0 upvotes
digifox
By digifox (Aug 14, 2012)

No, the camera isn't part of rocket science. It's just NASA doing what they do best - going with the easiest solution that has the most data. This is why they are going back to old designs (or at least were, before tons of funding was cut) for new spacecrafts. It is far easier to gain funding and keep a project going that can have funding cut at any second, by showing that you are using proven data or a cheaper way of going about things. NASA engineers are still, at the end of the day, just like everyone else who wants to keep their jobs. I have people who work at NASA in my family and it's just the way it is. Innovation is not really worth much on a spacecraft, but tried-and-true is.

0 upvotes
PeterFXCassidy
By PeterFXCassidy (Aug 10, 2012)

DPRers,

Who cares about kit. Any images of this quality is an OMG! moment.

Peter

2 upvotes
elave
By elave (Aug 10, 2012)

well said

1 upvote
Emmanuel Diver
By Emmanuel Diver (Aug 11, 2012)

I agree, though unfortunately these are the type of people who will also have a go at the camera that took the "Pale Blue Dot" image......

0 upvotes
aloanagain
By aloanagain (Aug 9, 2012)

Excellent reading. The 250mb feed from the Satelites sounds like a choice not a hard limitation. They have to share telemetry with other sensors.

More mp might be allocated if NASA needs more publicity for their project - nothing tells a good story like pictures.

0 upvotes
Dan Tong
By Dan Tong (Aug 9, 2012)

More proof that a large percentage of DPreview commentators cannot even read. This excellent article answers just about all of the questions, dumb or otherwise, raised in a prior article about Curiosity's cameras, yet lots of fools still keep asking the same tiresome questions. In fact, many of the questions were already correctly guessed, and it is a testament to the fact that there is a small intelligent, well informed segment in the Dpreview community.

Thanks for the excellent interview and CONGRATULATIONS to all of the people at NASA, JPL, and other places all over the world whose intelligence and hard work has made this possible.

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
8 upvotes
Michal59
By Michal59 (Aug 9, 2012)

Keeping fingfers for the mission I could't stop thinking of how many factors should have been taken on account while planning and preparint this challenge. Above explanation makes one hundreth of it clearer, maybe. It would be interesting to hear about the rest...
We have pictures FROM ANOTHER PLANET. And it matters more than a sensor resolution. If I see good shot I ask photographer how it was achieved rather than what camera he uses and how may pixels the sensor has.
I see final effect and it is good. Well done, guys!

0 upvotes
Eric Hensel
By Eric Hensel (Aug 9, 2012)

Would those who read the entire article before commenting, please raise your hand...

7 upvotes
jackgreen
By jackgreen (Aug 9, 2012)

There is no point of mad pixel race in the space. 2MP is more, than Your 24" LCD screen has. As we know, panorama photos will be stitched together. bear in mind scarce resource of Mars-Earth data bandwidth.

1 upvote
framus
By framus (Aug 9, 2012)

Last night I was looking at images from the NASA Curiosity Mars rover.
In some sense these are images from a 350 million mile telephoto lens.
For me it is remarkable to think I have a sense of what it looks like on the surface of Mars. Then I found myself pondering what the early pioneering photographers like Carlton Watkins, T.H. O'Sullivan, William Henry Jackson, Et Al would have thought about this.

1 upvote
Hoogineer
By Hoogineer (Aug 9, 2012)

This really is an amazing achievement, considering all of the factors: development time, distance, communication bandwidth, hardware robustness, etc. It wouldn't take much to render this project a failure, but they stuck the landing and their getting images back. Great job, NASA and co.!

Comment edited 31 seconds after posting
2 upvotes
mister_roboto
By mister_roboto (Aug 9, 2012)

If you drop an iPhone you have a pretty good chance of breaking the entire thing. I think the Mars lander camera is a tad bit wee more robust.

People find extraordinary achievements of today to be mundane no matter how amazing they are.

1 upvote
Mr Fartleberry
By Mr Fartleberry (Aug 9, 2012)

But Ken Rockwell says 2MP is all you really need.

15 upvotes
mpgxsvcd
By mpgxsvcd (Aug 9, 2012)

Isn't the bottom line that they are getting images and footage from Mars?

If I was in charge of the project I would have put my fantastic hacked GH2 on there but the rocket would have crashed on lift off and destroyed my beloved camera and a couple of billion worth of hard earned tax payer dollars.

The fact that they are getting any images at all is what impresses me. I can't believe they did absolutely everything perfectly and thought of everything that could go wrong. If even one bad thing had happened then we wouldn't have ever cared what megapixel camera they had. We would be complaining that they couldn't even get the rover there.

If you really think that more megapixels is that important then take a $100 telescope and the camera with the most megapixels ever and try to get a better image of Mars than Nasa has done.

They didn't need many megapixels because they sent the freaking camera to Mars instead of looking at it from a couple hundred million kilometers away.

7 upvotes
yakkosmurf
By yakkosmurf (Aug 9, 2012)

We use up-to-date Nikon still cameras and Canon pro video cameras on the ISS. In a few years, the space radiation environment kills a high number of pixels on those sensors (especially the video cameras), and we have to swap them for a newly launched one. That isn't an option for Curiosity...obviously. Likewise, we see issues with large capacity flash memory cards for these cameras as well.

From what I've seen of the impacts on consumer hardware (even once extra shielding is added) in the space environment, I completely agree with their design decisions.

9 upvotes
qwertyasdf
By qwertyasdf (Aug 9, 2012)

Just curious, but isn't Curiosity protected by the atmosphere of Mars?

0 upvotes
JaFO
By JaFO (Aug 9, 2012)

if Mars had the same atmosphere as Earth it might have helped.
Besides it's better to assume the worst for a project like this, isn't it ?

0 upvotes
KoKo the Talking Ape
By KoKo the Talking Ape (Aug 9, 2012)

@qwertyasdf: That's a good question, but the answer is, Not very much. Mars' atmosphere is much, much thinner than Earth's. Its density at the surface is less than 1% that of Earth's. If you were standing in a Martian dust storm, you would not even feel the pressure of the wind. So no, not much shielding. It will be a problem for any people going to Mars also.

0 upvotes
DoryD
By DoryD (Aug 9, 2012)

@qwertyasdf: We're protected from radiation not just from our atmosphere, but also from our magnetic field. Mars' magnetic field isn't there anymore, and the atmosphere is 100times thinner than on Earth.

Anyway, I still think they would be better off with some microfiber wipers on the lens and solar panels (of other rovers with solar panels).

0 upvotes
qwertyasdf
By qwertyasdf (Aug 10, 2012)

Thanks all for the replies.

0 upvotes
photonius
By photonius (Aug 9, 2012)

Anyway, re: resolution, stitching is not such a big issue. The rocks don't run that fast.

6 upvotes
zonoskar
By zonoskar (Aug 9, 2012)

The strange thing is, in 2002 Canon released the 1Ds with an 11MPix full-frame sensor. So why choose a 2MPix sensor for the rover 2 years later?

2 upvotes
Andy Crowe
By Andy Crowe (Aug 9, 2012)

The sensors are designed around getting the best scientific data, not taking the best holiday snaps.

They're also mounted on a motorized platform that can automatically take panoramic shots of any resolution so sensor resolution isn't as important as it would be for single shots.

2 upvotes
aardvark7
By aardvark7 (Aug 9, 2012)

Strange? Did you not read the article??
The only strange thing is people finding it odd, when bandwidth for large pictures is bad enough here on Earth, let alone 100 million miles away...sheesh!

2 upvotes
IljaM
By IljaM (Aug 9, 2012)

Andy, please, first think, then write. Was professional Canon 1Ds camera designed to be used for the holiday snaps?!? And, are the best scientific data a low-resolution data, or a higher-resolution data?
I have read somewhere, they have the low bandwidth only in this initial phase, after initial test and settings, they will activate a 2Mbit data transfer channel, so I think, they have enought bandwidth to transfer better resolution pictures than 2Mpix...

Comment edited 7 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
aardvark7
By aardvark7 (Aug 9, 2012)

IljaM,

Please, you need to take your own advice to heart.

To quote from the horses mouth, which is there in white and black above:

"There are three ways for Curiosity, to broadcast data back to Earth - but it's only the UHF transmitter that can be used for transmitting the amounts of data required for sending back images. 'The UHF antenna transmits to two spacecraft orbiting Mars, which relay the results back to Earth. That's where most of the data is coming from. It gives us on the order of 250 megabits per day, and that's got to be shared between a bunch of instruments, so there's not much bandwidth for the cameras.' Ravine explains."

1 upvote
JaFO
By JaFO (Aug 9, 2012)

They might have more bandwidth, but I think they'd prefer using that to control a probe instead of having to wait for ages because a recently uploaded big picture prevented the unit from receiving the commands it needed.

I wouldn't be surprised if the sensor data this thing is gathering was more interesting than a 44 Megapixel image ...

1 upvote
zonoskar
By zonoskar (Aug 9, 2012)

Well, stitched images are bigger then 2Mpix too I would guess. But I didn't think of shielding from space radiation. So the Canon sensor probably wouldn't do. I am curious if they even considered it though.

0 upvotes
framus
By framus (Aug 9, 2012)

Clearly, those JPL engineers and scientists don't know what they are doing. I'll bet there are folks here who can teach them a bunch about photography. Bring on the parade of bozos and trolls.

0 upvotes
Katie Piecrust
By Katie Piecrust (Aug 9, 2012)

The number of people complaining about the camera resolution is very telling. It shows us just how many amateurs use this site, which is clearly a lot. Based on what I've been reading, DPR really needs to consider doing an article on photo stitching if they haven't already.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the clarity of multiple stitched images using a lower megapixel sensor should easily beat a single shot from a high megapixel one of the same size, yes? Something to consider and discuss. I also find it interesting that a Mars probe ten years from now will, based on how things are done at NASA, likely be sporting the technology available today, or at least close to it when limitations are considered.

5 upvotes
aired
By aired (Aug 9, 2012)

Very likely another fake landing. Black and white photos again? Low res photos? !!!Average person will associate low resolution and grinny and de colored photos as more authentic and real than vivid high resolution photos!!!

Black and white photos and videos can mask the fake artificial lights. In pro photography world one that can shoot and edit color professionally can do black and white easily. But not the case for black and white only photographer.

The light source that look too close to the subject can be identified

2 upvotes
aired
By aired (Aug 9, 2012)

No one can fake real day lights yet not even the billion dollar budget movies

0 upvotes
jackgreen
By jackgreen (Aug 9, 2012)

Most probably You are not informed, that these firs images are just proof of landing. High res images, panoramic and color are coming later. Yesterday they actually rised the camera "tripod" and took firs images with main cam.

0 upvotes
lost_in_utah
By lost_in_utah (Aug 9, 2012)

Reading all of your nonsense is giving me a headache. The wording is making me dizzy, literally. Please try to rewrite this so we all can understand, and then laugh at your nonsensical ramblings.

4 upvotes
itsastickup
By itsastickup (Aug 9, 2012)

"No one can fake real day lights yet not even the billion dollar budget movies"

I think you are mistaken, Aired. If you look carefully you can clearly see Roger Moore just behind the right wheel.

It's obviously a fake.

1 upvote
Kevin Sutton
By Kevin Sutton (Aug 9, 2012)

I assume that "aired" is short for "Air Head"

6 upvotes
BartyLobethal
By BartyLobethal (Aug 9, 2012)

Shouldn't you be off campaigning against vaccinations or searching for unicorns or something?

3 upvotes
CForrester
By CForrester (Aug 9, 2012)

Don't worry everyone, you can stop reading at "fake landing" and really not miss anything from this post. More than likely, this guy is a troll - you'd have to be really dim to miss the obvious fact that, not only do we have colour photos from previous Mars rovers, this rover also provides colour photos that will be transmitted as bandwidth allows.

2 upvotes
aardvark7
By aardvark7 (Aug 9, 2012)

That's right! They've sent a device to transmit fake images from Mars to support the fake mission...
Even if one nation tried to fake it, you can bet your bottom dollar others would pont out the lack of a signal that should be there, much as the Russians would certainly have tracked the Apollo craft and screamed from the rooftops if it was a pretence.

0 upvotes
Jon Ragnarsson
By Jon Ragnarsson (Aug 9, 2012)

People here wouldn't know satire if it would bite them in the ass. :)

1 upvote
wkay
By wkay (Aug 10, 2012)

right Capricorn 1 all over again. Any event that we can replicate on the sound stage is a high probability fake, especially when 'the government' is involved. Never did believe that Iwo Jima flag raising.

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
0 upvotes
JerryZaza
By JerryZaza (Aug 11, 2012)

And of course the earth is flat and the Sun revolves around it. Gosh! never mind that any seriously minded Ham Radio operator can actually receive the signals sent back from Mars independently from NASA. http://www.uk.amsat.org/2578

0 upvotes
Blaise06a
By Blaise06a (Aug 9, 2012)

Absolutely fantastic article. Fascinating. Many thanks.

5 upvotes
keeponkeepingon
By keeponkeepingon (Aug 9, 2012)

This is a nice little article!

The first thing I think when I read something good is: Who wrote it?

Why doesn't dpreview give the author credit? You've got 15 buttons on "connecting"/"Social"/"Faceschnook" etc, how are we supposed to connect/socialize with a nameless entity.?

6 upvotes
Richard Butler
By Richard Butler (Aug 9, 2012)

Traditionally news (which isn't supposed to have an opinion or voice) isn't credited, since the whole point is that it isn't an individual speaking.

Since we're expanding the types of news we cover and who contributes to news, I can say that I wrote this one. Thanks for your kind comments.

2 upvotes
keeponkeepingon
By keeponkeepingon (Aug 9, 2012)

Thanks for the reply!

Tradition?

pcworld, endaget, arstechica, the new york times, time.com, cnn , infoworld, popphoto and so on and on all provide the authors name.

This is not "AP news" or reuters it's a photography site with a great (or at least large!) community.

It's swell when the authors join in the conversation, and I think most folks would welcome the conversation starting with a person versus a news "feed".

Thanks!

0 upvotes
Richard Butler
By Richard Butler (Aug 9, 2012)

We do try to engage wherever we can. A lot of the news is by me, it just so happens that when the system was set up, we were rarely writing anything with an individual's voice in it, so it didn't make sense to give a byline.

1 upvote
aardvark7
By aardvark7 (Aug 9, 2012)

The only thing I find strange is that many people wondered or criticised and NASA felt it necessary to explain why, when the reasons were obvious to the meanest intelligence.

It was a monumentally difficult task, sending such kit so far to such a hostile environment, the real wonder is that they can do it at all, let alone the spectacular success they have achieved.

2 upvotes
Blaise06a
By Blaise06a (Aug 9, 2012)

I find it great that NASA takes the time to discuss and explain.

10 upvotes
mosc
By mosc (Aug 9, 2012)

Another great post on this. Thanks DPR!

0 upvotes
tkbslc
By tkbslc (Aug 9, 2012)

I don't care if they are kinda low res and crummy. I get goosebumps realizing those just got sent from another freaking planet. Amazing.

11 upvotes
CameraLabTester
By CameraLabTester (Aug 9, 2012)

The Swiss Army Knife beside the 34mm (115mm equiv.) Mastcam really helps show the size and feel of those cameras. It resembles the shape of a home made DSLR with a short telephoto lens!

.

2 upvotes
qwertyasdf
By qwertyasdf (Aug 9, 2012)

Hands on preview, anyone?

2 upvotes
qwertyasdf
By qwertyasdf (Aug 9, 2012)

Forget about it, they don't have an extra review unit

0 upvotes
thinkfat
By thinkfat (Aug 9, 2012)

Yes they do have. There is for sure an exact duplicate of the complete rover in a NASA lab, as a working sample for problem solving.

0 upvotes
CameraLabTester
By CameraLabTester (Aug 9, 2012)

In order to have an accurate hands on preview, the staff has to take it to the "real environment" it was designed for, and not on Earth where it is too cozy.

They are still currently measuring the sizes for spacesuits for Mr Britton and Mr Butler...

.

2 upvotes
unknown member
By (unknown member) (Aug 9, 2012)

Though it is sad to see the end of Kodak as it once was it is also nice to know that their imaging section and sensors live on as Truesense Imaging and in some of the best cameras (Leica and Hasselblad) of this world and on the Mars rovers and other spacecraft. Good job Kodak and all those who built the cameras.

5 upvotes
Peiasdf
By Peiasdf (Aug 9, 2012)

In other word, designed by committee.

Good thing the launch wasn't delayed until 2020 otherwise we would have RC cars more advanced than this.

I like NASA and really don't like private space companies but I bet they would not have made similar choices due to better managements.

Comment edited 14 seconds after posting
2 upvotes
unknown member
By (unknown member) (Aug 9, 2012)

Did you miss the part of only 250 megs of data a day?

3 upvotes
Deleted1929
By Deleted1929 (Aug 9, 2012)

This is a common mistake people make.

Most of the choices would have been very similar as the physical, financial and temporal constraints would have been the same.

NASA isn't like a government department run by career paper-pushers. It's a mission centric organization where the decisions are made by very hard nosed engineers.

When the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up, it was a result of business managers ( not engineers ) at Thiokol refusing to back the the objections of the engineering team at Thiokol who wanted to postpone the launch. So don't think that private business managers would make NASA more efficient.

7 upvotes
sansbury
By sansbury (Aug 9, 2012)

The irony of your comment is that changing specs in the middle of a project (hey, Senator Blutarsky wants a 16MP camera on this or he's canceling the funding!) is exactly the kind of thing that would add years to the schedule.

The relevant benchmark is that this is the best camera we've ever had on the surface of Mars, attached to the most powerful rover ever built. If it finds strong evidence for life (past or present) then we just might see a big swing in support to spend $50-$100 billion to put a team of scientists up there. If so, you can bet Nikon and Canon will be fighting each other to equip them with the best imaging equipment ever seen.

3 upvotes
Peiasdf
By Peiasdf (Aug 9, 2012)

@ Basalite, compression algorithm have also come a long way since 2004. Just think how much better JPEG have become in new cameras.

@ sjgcit, sadly those hard nosed engineers pushed for space shuttle instead of more efficient carrier rockets. (Management wanted more photo-op)

Just think of all the different projects proposed and funded by NASA only to be cancelled half way through. I think there are 3 or 4 different maned spacecraft program at NASA right now.

@ sansbury, they should have been more ambitious with the technology on board. Planning a mission to be launched in 2009 with sensor already existed in 2004 is no different than designing a new car around a 10 years old engine. The zoom lens is ambitious but bad management delayed it.

Comment edited 5 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
thinkfat
By thinkfat (Aug 9, 2012)

The total daily data budget is 250 million BIT, not byte. So, about 25MB. Per day. Keep in mind that any meaningfully efficient compression algorithm for images is lossy! What sense does it make to capture high resolution images only to drop most of the pixels in compression because you can not store or transmit them?

2 upvotes
Dazed and Confused
By Dazed and Confused (Aug 9, 2012)

@Peiasdf

"Planning a mission to be launched in 2009 with sensor already existed in 2004 is no different than designing a new car around a 10 years old engine."

Really? There's no difference between designing a car that will travel a few thousand miles in its entire lifetime, where if it breaks down can just be towed to the shop, and sending something 200 million miles through the vacuum of space, where even the tiniest problem can totally ruin the entire project?

What should they have done in 2004? "Hey guys, why don't we just wait until a week before launch, then we'll just strip down the latest Nikon D-whatever, and duck tape the sensor on the front?"

If I told you today that I needed a camera in 5 years time that had a limited data rate, had to consume a tiny amount of power, had to survive extreme cold, heat, g, vibration, dust, vacuum and radiation, and have an incredibly low failure rate, what would you do exactly?

Comment edited 39 seconds after posting
1 upvote
attomole
By attomole (Aug 9, 2012)

The engineering is sound, Mars has its fare share of space junk due to engineering failures. The limiting factor is the 30MB of data a day for all your mission signals, so you scale the bandwidth to suit the target you can pick another sensor but it may take a million dollars to validate it, and even with that spend it may fail. So why mot go with one component you know works brilliantly and build your high res images in photoshop on planet Earth when you need them. rather than risk a failure on Planet mars where you cant fix it.

Check out the images from Opportunity and Spirit there fantastic, were going to mars here not a wedding.

0 upvotes
Itai42
By Itai42 (Aug 9, 2012)

Thanks for the insight. You got us impressed. Waiting for more info to go on the NASA website (And thanks DPR for the updates)

0 upvotes
Total comments: 187
12