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Mars Science Laboratory

Descent Imaging

Descent imaging provides pictures during entry, descent, and landing. It is one of the advanced terrain-sensing techniques that could be used on future missions for the detection and avoidance of surface hazards during descent through the martian atmosphere, although that is not how it was used on MSL. The purpose of descent imaging on MSL was to enable mission teams to make early determinations about the precise place the rover landed based on images of the martian surface collected on the way down.

This black-and-white image shows a large crater and small crater on the surface of Mars in three views, in which the craters are in slightly different positions relative to the middle of each of the three frames. It simulates what the camera might see as it moved horizontally through the atmosphere during descent. A sunflower-petal-like blanket of ejected rocks and soil surround the dark hole of the bright rimmed crater.
This image simulates how the descent imager for the Mars Exploration Rovers took three pictures of the surface and compared high-contrast features (e.g., craters) to determine the spacecraft's horizontal velocity during entry, descent, and landing. This measurement helped determine which transverse rockets should be fired to keep the spacecraft within its planned landing area.

In addition to stunning video, the data the camera collected allowed scientists and engineers to: observe geological processes at a variety of scales, sample the horizontal wind profile, create detailed geologic, geomorphic and traverse planning and relief maps of the landing site.