Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) Science Objectives

A sequence of images at a nesting scale of 2:1 showing changes in landforms in Antarctica as a function of scale.

A sequence of images at a nesting scale of 2:1 showing changes in landforms as a function of scale. Images are at scales of 5, 2.5, 1.2, 0.6, 0.3, and 0.16 meters per pixel, equivalent to images that will be acquired by MARDI at about 150, 105, 72, 47, 30, and 21 seconds prior to the MSL landing. These are images of a site in Antarctica. Unlike these pictures, the MSL MARDI images will be in color and will compose a high definition video sequence.


Main Objective: To precisely determine the location of MSL’s landing site, which in turn will help the MSL science team plan the rover’s traverses to the geologic features of interest.

Science and Engineering Goals:

  • Observe landscape physiography and processes at the MSL site. Images from MARDI will bridge the gap between the geology and geomorphic features observed in high resolution images of the landing site acquired by orbiting spacecraft, prior to the landing, and the landforms that the rover’s cameras will observe after it has landed. 
  • Precisely determine the location of MSL after it has landed. Despite high-accuracy radiometric tracking and high-resolution orbiter imaging, it is still possible that the lander’s position will not be known with respect to local surface features, especially if the terrain is relatively uniform or the vehicle lands in a crater. Of course, if the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is available after the landing to take a picture, then the location of the lander will be known, but the MARDI will have already provided that determination, immediately after landing, and will provide higher resolution images than the orbiter can obtain. 
  • Determine attributes of the atmosphere’s wind profile during the MSL descent to the surface. The images acquired by MARDI will permit a very detailed vertical sampling, and a 10–20 meters horizontal sampling, of the wind profile. 
  • Provide rapid, post-landing data products to aid rover traverse planning. Topographic, geologic, geomorphic, and traverse planning maps can be created shortly after landing, using the detailed MARDI data. 
  • Obtain a high-definition video reconstruction of the descent. MARDI data will be in the form of a color, high-definition video that will help engineers and geologists understand the nature of the final descent to the Martian surface. The video sampling rate permits reconstruction of the wind profile, as well.


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