NASA has announced new upgrades to its famous Mars rover, which include an intuitive camera system. TextureCam, manufactured by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, can not only take photos of Mars’ surface, rocks and any other specimens, but it will also do so more intelligently.
The new camera sifts through the information it gathers so as to only keep what is important and relevant. Now scientists won’t have to separate useless info or sort through what they may already have gathered. TextureCam has the brains to do all of that for them, thus speeding up research and discovery.
TextureCam will also be quicker on receiving instructions from the Earth base. The technology is an expansion on what was already a facet of the Curiosity rover’s design, which could differentiate various rocks but still had to send images back to Earth for analysis.
At the moment, Curiosity takes 20 minutes to send info back to Earth and, once analysis is complete, NASA’s base sends instructions back to Mars (another 20 minutes) saying whether Curiosity should continue exploring the area it is in or move on. TextureCam is able to conduct much of its own research, saving precious time.
Senior researcher Kiri Wagstaff, a computer scientist and geologist from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory describes the technology as micromanagement of sorts and important for even further space exploration. “While this suffices for our rovers on Mars, it works less and less well the further you get from the Earth,” she said. “If you want to get ambitious and go to Europa and asteroids and comets, you need more and more autonomy to even make that feasible.”
TextureCam was recently put to the test in Southern California’s Mojave Desert because the landscape is so similar to Mars. NASA’s goal with the new camera is to streamline the data-gathering process to save both time and money.