Eyes for the Red Planet

The Mars 2020 mission will not only seek out and study an area likely to have been habitable in the distant past, but it will take the next, bold step in robotic exploration of the Red Planet by seeking signs of past microbial life itself. (Source: NASA / JPL-Caltech)

The Jenoptik Light & Optics team in Jupiter, Florida, have been developing three types of mission critical lenses for use with the Mars 2020 Rover’s engineering cameras.

Navigation lenses will capture the first live video footage from the mission as the rover explores the surface of Mars, crucially important when the rover drives autonomously. Hazard avoidance lenses will provide images that will help the rover identify obstacles and allow NASA engineers to see the movement of the robotic arm during sample collection.

Some of the 23 cameras on NASA’s 2020 Mars rover. Many are improved versions of the cameras on the Curiosity rover, with a few new additions as well. (Source: NASA / JPL-Caltech)

Finally, a cache lens will verify that a complete collection of the rock and soil samples have been achieved. 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. Due to the cache lens’ proximity to the samples collected, to avoid contamination, the cleanliness requirements are extremely challenging.

All three lens types were built in a Jenoptik class-5 clean room with state-of-the-art filtration technology for high-precision optical assemblies. Custom test equipment was developed at Jenoptik to measure the optical performance during the demanding temperature extremes to withstand the conditions on Mars. Jenoptik performed several environmental tests in vacuum and over a wide temperature range with the lowest temperature being -135 °C.

On May 23, 2019, in the Spacecraft Assembly Facility’s High Bay 1 clean room at JPL, engineers re-install the cover to the RSM head after integration of two Mastcam-Z high-definition cameras. Visible below the red lens cover is the left Mastcam-Z camera (with the “Remove Before Flight” labels); support equipment blocks the right Mastcam-Z from view. (Source: NASA / JPL-Caltech)

“Jenoptik is accustomed to demanding applications requiring expertise in the design, manufacture, and testing of complex optical assemblies in the fields of semiconductor, medical devices and defense industries”, said Jay Kumler, president of Jenoptik Optical Systems in North America. “We are very proud of the technical challenges and rigorous testing we have overcome which has really benefited the entire company, and we are honored to be a part of the monumental mission to Mars.” The Jenoptik Light & Optics division is a global OEM supplier of solutions and products based on photonics technologies.

Mars 2020 will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida in July of 2020. One of the first operations the Mars 2020 rover will perform after touching down on the Red Planet’s Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021, will be to raise its remote sensing mast (RSM), which carries important optics and instrumentation. (Sources: Jenoptik / NASA)

Links: Mars 2020 mission, NASA / JPL-CaltechOptics & Optical Systems, Jenoptik Group, Jena, Germany

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