3D Attacks Mars

SAN DIEGO, CALIF.: The Southern California company that delivered two high-definition camera systems for the next Mars Rover enlisted James Cameron to develop systems for capturing 3D images. Malin Space Science Systems said NASA had provided it with additional funding for alternate camera systems for Curiosity, the stripped-down Jeep CJ-like Martian probe schedule for launch next year.

Malin provided the first two camera systems to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, Calif., in early April. Both are full color, high-definition cameras with fixed lenses--one 34 mm and the other, 100 mm. Both measure about 3.5 inches long and feature CCD sensors. (The image below from the 34 mm Mastcam shows Dr. Michael Malin, CEO of Malin Space Science Systems, next to the 1951 U.S. Air Force Resolution Chart. The shot below that is the 100 mm version. Both are from MSSS.) Zoom cameras were originally proposed, Malin said, but NASA cut the program three yeras ago to save money.

“NASA directed that the development of the zoom lens be abandoned in 2007 as a cost saving measure, and the fixed-focal length Mastcams just delivered were developed to replace the zoom versions,” the company said April 6. “With the two completed and delivered fixed-focal length cameras in hand, NASA recently decided to fund completion of the zoom cameras by the Mastcam team, with the possibility of swapping out the old cameras for the new ones provided they can be assembled and tested in the time remaining before the MSL rover begins final testing early next year. The effort to build the zoom lens cameras has just started at MSSS.”

Michael Malin, CEO of MSSS, said restoring the zoom feature was not a scientific issue.

“The fixed focal length Mastcams we just delivered will do almost all of the science we originally proposed,” he said. “But they cannot provide a wide field of view with comparable eye stereo. With the zoom Mastcams, we’ll be able to take cinematic video sequences in 3D on the surface of Mars. This will give our public engagement co-investigator, James Cameron, tools similar to those he used on his recent 3D motion picture projects.”

Malin delivered two other camera systems for the Curiosity two years ago--the Mars Descent Imager for the robotic arm, and the Mars Descent Imager, for taking hundreds of sequence shots as the vehicle approaches the planet.

MSSS is also building a camera system for the 2011 Juno mission to Jupiter.
-- Deborah D. McAdams