NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory uses Dalsa Corp.'s image sensor chips for the panoramic camera onboard the Mars Exploration Rover.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, CA, needed image sensor chips for the panoramic camera onboard the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) missions.

JPL contacted DALSA Corp. for help. DALSA manufactures digital imaging products and provides wafer foundry services.

DALSA’s CCD image sensor chips are now onboard the two MER missions, dubbed Spirit and Opportunity. The chips were manufactured at DALSA’s semiconductor division in Bromont, Quebec, Canada. The space-qualified chips, designed in collaboration with JPL, are part of sophisticated camera systems for navigation and scientific investigation.

The chips are critical components in the nine electronic cameras aboard the two identical Mars rovers. Each camera integrates a scientific-grade, 1,024- by 1,024-pixel CCD image sensor. Three of the cameras on the rovers are responsible for scientific investigation, while six others aid in navigating the vehicle on Mars’ surface. The cameras will serve as the vehicle’s “electronic eyes,” as it examines its landing site for geological evidence of past liquid water activity and past environmental conditions hospitable to life.

The two panoramic cameras are the most sophisticated color imaging systems ever sent to the surface of another planet. The pair of stereo cameras is located on a “camera bar” that sits on top of the mast of the rovers. The two cameras will take high-resolution views of the surface and sky through eight different colored filters. The mast assembly allows the cameras to rotate a complete 360 degrees. The camera bar can swing up or down through 180 degrees of elevation. This allows the cameras to generate panoramic image mosaics as large as 4,000 by 24,000 pixels.

Both Mars Rovers were built, managed and operated for the NASA Office of Space Science by JPL. The Spirit Rover launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 10. Opportunity launched July 7.

After a seven-and-a-half month cruise, Spirit should enter Mars’ atmosphere in early January 2004. Opportunity should reach the Martian surface approximately 3 weeks later.

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