The Cameras on the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover

The rover's "eyes" and other "senses"

The Perseverance rover has several cameras focused on engineering and science tasks. Some help us land on Mars, while others serve as our “eyes” on the surface to drive around. We use others to do scientific observations and aid in the collection of samples.

Descent Imaging Cameras For Landing

Entry, Descent, and Landing Cameras

Ever wonder what it would be like to have an "astronaut's" view of landing on Mars? For the touchdown of the Perseverance rover, the engineering team added several cameras and a microphone to document the entry, descent, and landing in even greater detail. The cameras recorded stunning views of the landing, capturing full-color video of the vehicle’s final descent to the Martian surface. The videos also provided data to help the team explore:
  • How does the parachute deploy and operate in the Martian atmosphere?
  • How does the landing system move as it descends and nears the surface?
  • How much sand and rock is blown into the atmosphere by the retro rockets?
  • What exactly happens when the rover touches down?
  • Precisely where did the vehicle touch down in the landing area?
  • How can aerial views from shortly before landing inform plans for driving the rover?

These are some of the most informative observations that cameras can provide for those in the business of landing spacecraft on Mars.


A schematic drawing shows the location of various cameras on the Mars 2020 rover, descent stage, and backshell.
Unprecedented Visibility into Mars Landings: A suite of cameras on various parts of the Mars 2020 spacecraft will provide more detailed views of landing than ever before. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Full image and caption ›


These new eyes and ears of Perseverance were assembled from easily available commercial hardware. The cameras and microphone were flown as a "discretionary payload" – an optional add-on that would be an asset, but that wasn’t required for the mission.

The Mars 2020 entry, descent, and landing camera suite included:

  • Parachute "up look" cameras
    Mounted on the backshell, looking upward at parachute deployment and inflation. Three cameras were installed, two of which successfully recorded the parachute.
  • Descent-stage "down look" camera
    Mounted on the descent stage, looking downward at the rover as it was lowered during the skycrane maneuver
  • Rover "up look" camera
    Mounted on the deck of the rover, looking upward at the descent stage during the skycrane maneuver and descent stage separation
  • Rover "down look" camera
    Mounted beneath the rover, looking downward at the surface during landing

In addition to providing engineering data, the cameras can be considered a "public engagement payload." They certainly gave a dramatic sense of the ride down to the surface! Aside from computer animations, there had never been any views of a parachute opening in the Martian atmosphere, the rover being lowered down to the surface of Mars, or the descent stage flying away after rover touchdown. Perseverance gave us all a front-row seat to a Mars landing for the first time in the history of space exploration.

Tech Specs

  • Main Job Take pictures, looking up and down, during descent and landing on Mars
  • Location Mounted on various parts of the spacecraft, including the backshell, descent stage, and rover


Lander Vision System Camera

Another camera system used during the descent to Mars was critical to the rover’s safe touchdown: the Lander Vision System Camera took the images needed for Terrain-Relative Navigation.

While the spacecraft was dangling beneath the parachute, the wide-angle Lander Vision System Camera was looking downward, busily taking images of the rapidly approaching surface. A special computer on the rover quickly analyzed the images and compared them to an onboard map to determine the rover’s position relative to the ground. This helped Perseverance autonomously pick the safest touchdown site within its landing area.

Tech Specs

  • Main Job Take pictures during descent, looking downward from the rover, to aid in Terrain-Relative Navigation
  • Location Mounted on the left side near the front of the rover, pointed straight down
  • Image Size 1024x1024 pixels


Engineering Cameras

Mars 2020 uses a new generation of engineering cameras that build on the capabilities of past Mars rover cameras. These "enhanced” engineering cameras give much more detailed information, in color, about the terrain around the rover. They have various functions: they measure the ground around the rover for safe driving, check out the status of rover hardware, and support sample-gathering. Some help determine the best way to move closer to scientific targets.

"Enhanced" Engineering Cameras for Driving

The enhanced engineering cameras for driving help human operators on Earth drive the rover more precisely, and better target the movements of the arm, drill and other tools that get close to their targets. A much wider field-of-view gives the cameras a much better view of the rover itself. This is important for checking on the health of various rover parts and measuring changes in the amount of dust and sand that may accumulate on rover surfaces. The new cameras can also take pictures while the rover is moving.

The enhanced engineering cameras share the same camera body, but use different lenses selected for each camera's specific task.

These Mars 2020 navigation camera, or Navcam, views show a pile of rocks taken from a distance of about 15 meters (about 50 feet) in the "Mars Yard" testing area at JPL. The pictures illustrate one way the camera data can be used to reveal the contours of a target from a distance. Such measurements give the rover and its team the knowledge they need to plan precise travel and arm movements.

Tech Specs

  • Main Job Used for driving around on Mars and for positioning the tools on the robotic arm
  • Location Various places on the rover
  • Weight Less than 425 grams (less than a pound)
  • Image Size 5120 x 3840 pixels
  • Image Resolution 20 megapixel


Hazard Avoidance Cameras (HazCams):

Perseverance carries six newly developed Hazard Detection Cameras, called HazCams: four on the front and two on the rear of the rover body. HazCams detect hazards to the front and back pathways of the rover, such as large rocks, trenches, or sand dunes.

Engineers also use the front HazCams to see where to move the robotic arm to take measurements, photos, and collect rock and soil samples.

When driving, the rover stops frequently to take new stereo images of the path ahead to evaluate potential hazards. The 3D views give Mars 2020 the ability to make its own decisions about where to drive without consulting on every move with the rover team on Earth.

Tech Specs

  • Main Job Aid in autonomous navigation
  • Location Mounted at the front and rear of the rover's body, pointing down toward the ground


Navigation Cameras (Navcams):

Two color stereo Navigation Cameras, called Navcams, help engineers navigate Perseverance safely, particularly when the rover operates autonomously, making its own navigation decisions without consulting controllers on Earth.

Located up high on the rover's mast, these two cameras help engineers drive the rover around Mars. They can see an object as small as a golf ball from 82 feet (25 meters) away. Before Perseverance "drives blind,” the navigation cameras initially help ensure a safe path. Blind-drive mode occurs when engineers command the rover to drive a certain distance in a certain direction, and the rover's computer "brains" calculate distance from wheel rotations without looking or checking for wheel slippage.


New Camera to Record Sample Collection

CacheCam:

The "CacheCam" is a single camera that looks down at the top of the sample cache. It takes pictures of sampled materials and the sample tubes as they are being prepared for sealing and caching. This helps scientists “watch over” the samples as they are being obtained, and keeps a record of the entire process for each sample collected.

Mars 2020 CacheCam Sample Tube
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This is the top-down view into a sample tube is the type of image CacheCam provides to the Mars 2020 team.
Download full image ›

Tech Specs

  • Main Job To see down into the top of a sample tube after the sample is gathered; to take microscopic pictures of the top of the sample material before the tube is sealed.
  • Location Inside the rover underbelly, at the top of the sample cache

The Science Cameras

Mastcam-Z

Mastcam-Z is a pair of cameras that takes color images and video, three-dimensional stereo images, and has a powerful zoom lens. Like the Mastcam cameras on the Curiosity rover, Mastcam-Z on Mars 2020 consists of two duplicate camera systems mounted on the mast that stands up from the rover deck. The cameras are next to each other and point in the same direction, providing a 3-D view similar to what human eyes would see, only better. They also have a zoom function to see details of faraway targets.

SuperCam

SuperCam fires a laser at mineral targets that are beyond the reach of the rover’s robotic arm, and then analyzes the vaporized rock to reveal its elemental composition. Like the ChemCam on rover Curiosity, SuperCam fires laser pulses at pinpoint areas smaller than 1 millimeter from more than 20 feet (about 7 meters) away. Its camera and spectrometers then examine the rock's chemistry. It seeks organic compounds that could be related to past life on Mars. When the laser hits the rock, it creates plasma, which is an extremely hot gas made of free-floating ions and electrons. An onboard spectrograph records the spectrum of the plasma, which reveals the composition of the material.

PIXL

PIXL uses X-ray fluorescence to identify chemical elements in target spots as small as a grain of table salt. It has a Micro-Context Camera to provide images to correlate its elemental composition maps with visible characteristics of the target area.

SHERLOC Context Imager

SHERLOC's main tools are spectrometers and a laser, but it also uses an integrated “context” macro camera to take extreme close-ups of the areas that are studied. This provides context for what the laser was targeting but also to help scientists see textures that might tell the story of the environment in which the rock formed.

WATSON

The WATSON camera is one of the tools on the "hand" or turret at the end of Perseverance's robotic arm. It is almost identical to the MAHLI hand-lens camera on the Curiosity rover. WATSON (Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering) captures the images that bridge the scale from the very detailed images and maps that SHERLOC collects of Martian minerals and organics to the broader scales that SuperCam and Mastcam-Z observe from the mast. WATSON provides views of the fine-scale textures and structures in Martian rocks and the rocky debris and dust that cover so much of the Martian surface. These capabilities mean WATSON not only supports SHERLOC, but also helps identify targets of interest for the other rover instruments. Since WATSON can be moved around by the robotic arm, it also provides images of instruments and rover parts. For example, it can be pointed at the oxygen-making experiment MOXIE to help monitor how much dust accumulates around the inlet that lets in Martian air for the extraction of oxygen.

A calibration target for WATSON is attached to the front of the rover body. It contains a metric standardized bar graphic to help calibrate the instrument.