Help Shape the Future of Space Exploration

Join The Planetary Society Now  arrow.png

Join our eNewsletter for updates & action alerts

    Please leave this field empty

Headshot of Bruce Betts

Planetary Society Selected as Mars 2020 Camera Partner

Posted by Bruce Betts

31-07-2014 12:23 CDT

Topics: Mars 2020, Planetary Society Projects, Mars

NASA just announced the selection of science instruments for the Mars 2020 rover, a structural copy of the Curiosity rover to be launched in 2020. We at The Planetary Society are ecstatic to be an education and outreach partner on the selected Mastcam-Z mast camera system. Planetary Society President Jim Bell, in his other life as an Arizona State University professor, is the principal investigator for Mastcam-Z.

Jim said, "I am excited to help bring Planetary Society members along for our next ride to Mars!" Jim has a long science history with rover and other planetary imaging, and has an eye for stunning images, such as those published in his books Postcards from Mars, and Mars 3-D: A Rover's Eye View of the Red Planet.  Very early in the proposal development process, Jim began talking with us and encouraging the development of ideas for sharing the wonder of Mars with the public utilizing his spectacular instrument.

Instruments selected for the Mars 2020 rover


Instruments selected for the Mars 2020 rover
On the mast are upgraded versions of instruments on Curiosity: Mastcam-Z (color, stereo, 3D, zoom-capable cameras); and SuperCam (upgraded version of ChemCam). On the arm are PIXL, an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer and imager, and SHERLOC, a Raman spectrometer and imager. RIMFAX is a ground-penetrating radar; MEDA is a meteorological package; and MOXIE will advance goals in in-situ resource utilization by producing oxygen from carbon dioxide.

Mastcam-Z is a color stereo camera system. It has a zoom capability that we have never had on a Mars rover. It will produce stunning images from the surface of Mars, including in 3-D.  It also includes a range of filters carefully selected for geologic studies. And, the zoom capability will help in the planning of drives for the rover.  Mastcam-Z derives from the Curiosity Mastcam instrument, and will be built by the builders of Curiosity's Mastcam, Malin Space Science Systems. So, imagine the amazing Curiosity images, but now with zoom and with more science capability.

We have lots of ideas to share the exciting story and results of Mastcam-Z. We'll be sharing them over time as we work with Jim, the instrument team, and NASA, but for now, I just wanted to let all of you know, including our dedicated members who make these types of spacecraft involvement possible, that we are once again headed to Mars!

Help support The Planetary Society and great projects like this:

Donate Now!

See other posts from July 2014


Or read more blog entries about: Mars 2020, Planetary Society Projects, Mars


Skip Morrow: 07/31/2014 12:36 CDT

Dr. Betts, can you explain the relationship between NASA and university professors such as Dr. Bell and yourself? Why would the principle investigator be a university professor who certainly has other things to do? Why not have a full time NASA or JPL employee do this? Is it common for university professors to be so involved with planetary missions? Will Dr. Bell have students that are a part of the mission as well?

Bruce Betts: 07/31/2014 12:42 CDT

Instrument principal investigators can be from universities, NASA, JPL, or other types of organizations. The key is that they have a great instrument, and a great plan for managing it. Competitions like for Mars 2020 are open to all these categories to try to find the best ideas and teams to make those ideas happen. In answer to your other questions: it is very common for university professors to be this involved with planetary mission, and yes, Dr. Bell as well as many of the co-investigators on the instrument will involve students.

Yves-A Grondin: 07/31/2014 03:00 CDT

Dr. Betts. I noticed that Mastcam-Z will have 3-D capability. Does that mean that James Cameron will be involved with this camera?

Alexei Schandl: 08/01/2014 07:00 CDT

Very excited to be part of the Mars 2020 rover team. Thanks!

Dieter Loewrigkeit: 08/01/2014 02:32 CDT

Considering the likelihood that the samples collected won't be retrieved for many years if at all, did NASA consider modifying the Sky Crane for a soft landing and have an attached return vehicle on it? The samples could be put into orbit around Mars for easy retrieval at a later date or sent back to earth orbit and retrieved by the Orion spacecraft. A sample return would put Mars exploration years ahead.

Casey Dreier (Planetary Society): 08/01/2014 04:53 CDT

Dieter: Mars 2020 is only happening because NASA was able to keep costs down by sticking very closely to existing technology developed for Curiosity. As such, the entire EDL package will essentially be a duplicate of what flew on MSL. Modifications add cost, and a Mars launch vehicle needs significant technology R&D before it's ready. NASA, unfortunately, does not have the money or time to get this ready for 2020.

Dieter Loewrigkeit: 08/01/2014 05:26 CDT

Casey, thanks for the quick reply. I'm aware of NASA's budget constraints and the good work you've been doing advocating planetary science. I'm not a supporter of manned missions (which sadly take up most of NASA's budget) and this is probably not the right forum to discuss this (and for that I apologize) but another rover (costing almost as much as Curiosity) isn't pushing the "exploratory peanut" very far down the road! NASA needs a "game changer" and I believe the public would be much more excited and supportive of a sample return mission? Was this even considered?

Bob Ware: 08/01/2014 08:48 CDT

Jim B. -- Congrats and thanks! I'll hold my breath! "2020 aint that far down the road!" : )

Casey Dreier: 08/04/2014 12:13 CDT

Dieter: I think we (and the planetary science community, and—to an extent—NASA) are with you in this. The science community put together a major report a few years back, the Planetary Science Decadal Survey, which recommends a Mars Sample Return campaign as the highest priority planetary mission. The caveat is that they want to break it into three separate missions spaced out over 15 - 20 years in order to make the costs tenable. So in this view, Mars 2020 is the first, crucial step towards a sample return (gathering the samples). Now we have a much stronger position to argue for NASA to invest in technology and commit to a mission to get those samples back to Earth. It's probably the not ideal solution, but it's the most practical.

Leave a Comment:

You must be logged in to submit a comment. Log in now.
Facebook Twitter Email RSS AddThis

Blog Search

Planetary Defense

An asteroid or comet headed for Earth is the only large-scale natural disaster we can prevent. Working together to fund our Shoemaker NEO Grants for astronomers, we can help save the world.


Featured Images

LightSail 2 and Prox-1
Bill Nye at LightSail 2 pre-ship review
LightSail 2 pre-ship review team photo
Swirling maelstrom
More Images

Featured Video

Class 9: Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune

Watch Now

Space in Images

Pretty pictures and
awe-inspiring science.

See More

Join The Planetary Society

Let’s explore the cosmos together!

Become a Member

Connect With Us

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and more…
Continue the conversation with our online community!