Video: NASA Gives a Tour of the Cameras on the Mars Curiosity Rover

The Curiosity Rover has been trekking the surface of Mars since late last year, and so far, there has been no shortage of great imagery.

But what gear is behind those intriguing images we see so frequently? NASA JPL has put together a short video on the camera equipment on board the Curiosity rover.

Seventeen cameras (the most of any NASA planetary mission) on the rover are responsible for taking both color and black and white images, depending on their role.


At the end of the arm is a camera that takes “high-resolution” color images. Another camera on the mast does geology work. Four cameras on the front and rear of the vehicle (dubbed HazCams) identify potential driving hazards.


There are more, each with a specific function. But why are some cameras capable of shooting color images and others not? According to Justin Maki, who leads the engineering camera team for the rover, there are black and white cameras because “that’s all the rover really needs in order to detect rocks and other obstacles.”

As far as color cameras go, Maki says “scientists use the color information to learn about the soil and the rocks.”

But when NASA says “high resolution,” it’s really anything but (at least by today’s standards). Cameras on the rover can take between 1 and 2-megapixel images. It’s 2013 — why on Earth is a super-expensive space project not taking higher resolution images?


Consider the fact that the planning for the Curiosity mission started earlier in the decade. The sensors used, at the time, were considered to be cutting-edge. And if you think your ISP’s bandwidth caps are ridiculous, get this:

According to Extreme Tech, daily bandwidth transmissions are limited to about 32MB! This is also another reason why the rover doesn’t usually send back video clips — despite the fact it’s very much capable of doing so.

(via NASA via Reddit)

  • Shlomi Cohen

    Pretty amazing that they have built a robotic arm just so the rover could take selfies and upload it to Instragram.

  • Don Lavanty

    Not sure if anyone else answer this about the high resolution camera. Just like any other space mission its radiation. Less sophisticated electronics can be “Hardened” to withstand much more severe cosmic radiation. Just think about it this way we sent a 1 Billion+ mission to mars and the first solar flare all the high resolution camera’s get damaged and what are you going to do with a blind rover?

    Space shuttles computers at least originally had less power than the 286 PC’s Some pocket calculators today would put them to shame. But they worked there were backups and redundancy because its better to have a working computer than a 2+ Gigahertz intel chip that gets fried in orbit.

    So those “high resolution” camera’s are one of the least protected pieces of electronics on the rover. So how do you protect them you make them really hard to break.