Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) Instrument Description

The MSL Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) camera head.

The MSL Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) camera head. The knife is 88.9 mm (3.5 inches) long.
Image credit: Malin Space Science Systems


The MSL Mars Decent Imager (MARDI) will obtain high-definition, natural color motion imaging during the rover’s descent to the martian surface. Under nominal circumstances, for about 100 seconds, from the time the heat shield is jettisoned until touch down, approximately 500 images of 1600 by 1200 pixels in size will be obtained at altitudes below 3.7 kilometers. The first image will cover an area approximately 4 by 3 kilometers at a resolution of about 2.5 meters per pixel. The last fully in-focus images, taken about 5 meters above the ground, will cover areas of about 5 by 4 meters across at a resolution of 0.33 centimeters per pixel. Once on the ground images will cover an area about 1 by 0.75 m across at a resolution of about 1.5 mm per pixel pair.

The data will be used very shortly after landing to tell the MSL science team exactly where the rover has landed, and how far away it may be from key geologic features of interest. The images will be used to plan the initial rover traverses, and will provide a profile of the wind encountered by the rover during its descent.

The basic attributes of the MSL MARDI system are:

  • MARDI consists of two elements: a camera head, mounted on the outside of the MSL rover body, and a Digital Electronics Box (DEA), which also contains the electronics for the Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) and two Mast Cameras (Mastcam). The DEA is housed in a temperature-controlled envrironment inside the rover. 
  • MARDI shares common elements in terms of design, parts, and labor, with the other MSSS cameras for MSL, the MastCam and MAHLI
  • MARDI uses a Bayer Pattern Filter CCD array to obtain natural color pictures of a quality comparable to consumer/commercial digital cameras. This will provide color views of Mars that are similar to that which the human eye would see. 

Bayer Pattern Filter CCD array.

Bayer Pattern Filter CCD array. Each detector, which translates to being a pixel in a digital image, is covered by a red, green, or blue filter arranged in the pattern shown here. This is a common approach to color digital imaging, used in commercial cameras.

  • MARDI images are 1600 by 1200 pixels in size. 
  • MARDI data will be acquired in a form that will produce a high-definition video of the rover’s descent to Mars.


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