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Mike Ravine, Advanced Projects Manager for Malin Space Science Systems  (Source: torynfarr/flickr)

A two-image panorama shot with the rover's 1024 x 1024 mono navigation cameras  (Source: NASA)
Reasons included the amount of data produced, the fact that they had to meet the needs of different cameras, and the team's familiarity with these sensors

NASA recently accomplished a huge feat by landing its Mars rover Curiosity on the Red Planet, but one of the questions on the minds of many was why such a sophisticated machine used 2 MP cameras.
Mike Ravine, a project manager from Malin Space Science Systems, was happy to answer that in an interview with Digital Photography Review. He said the main reasons for using 2 MP sensors in the cameras were the amount of data produced, the fact that they had to meet the needs of different cameras, and the team's familiarity with these sensors.
"There's a popular belief that projects like this are going to be very advanced, but there are things that mitigate against that," said Ravine. "These designs were proposed in 2004, and you don't get to propose one specification then go off and develop something else. Two MP with 8 GB of flash didn't sound too bad in 2004. But it doesn't compare well to what you get in an iPhone today."
The amount of data produced is a large reason for using 2 MP cameras. There just isn't enough bandwidth for anything more powerful because the cameras must share with other instruments. Curiosity sends data back to Earth via the UHF transmitter, which transmits to two spacecraft orbiting Mars. The data is then sent back to Earth, and this system only allows for 250 megabits per day to be shared amongst various instruments.
The 2 MP camera sensors also were the tools of choice for the use of four different cameras, including the MAHLI, MARDI and two Mastcams. Having four different sensors for each camera would be expensive and more difficult to maintain rather than having one type of sensor all across the board. 
The team's familiarity with the sensors was crucial, too. The team knew the behavior of Truesense imaging chips and Kodak's KAI-2020 chip, so it makes sense that they'd work with what they know. 
"We know how to clock them and drive them," said Ravine. "They're a very easy CCD to drive."
Other issues, like the low pixel count, are not an issue either since the two Mastcams will create images from multiple exposures. 
NASA rover Curiosity landed successfully on Mars earlier this week after launching from Cape Canaveral, Florida on November 26, 2011. Curiosity is a one-ton, nuclear-powered, Mini Cooper-sized science laboratory that will explore the Martian surface for the next two years. 

Source: Digital Photography Review

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Using megapixel count for a camera....
By Fenixgoon on 8/10/2012 1:26:51 AM , Rating: 2
is like using the amount of VRAM to judge the performance of a video card.

Just. Don't. Do. It.

By kattanna on 8/10/2012 9:49:45 AM , Rating: 2

but when you start to talk about things like lenses and relative aperture and such.. peoples eyes usually tend to gloss over, LOL

RE: Using megapixel count for a camera....
By mindless1 on 8/10/12, Rating: 0
RE: Using megapixel count for a camera....
By teldar on 8/10/2012 1:29:26 PM , Rating: 3
Absolutely wrong. Optics are important for image quality. Resolution and quality have nothing in common.
Higher resolution is great for detailed pictures, but if the optics and processor are garbage, you get a useless picture.
They went with sensors and processor they knew, not something "better"that may not have produced usable images.

Perfect example: the Hubble telescope needed new optics sent up on a shuttle because they didn't correct for distortion caused by our atmosphere.

By mindless1 on 8/10/2012 5:34:05 PM , Rating: 2
Yes optics ARE important. No, a low res image isn't high quality. Below a certain pixel count you don't have a picture, you have color blocks.

I never suggested someone should pair a good sensor with crap optics, any rational person would assume all else is equal when making the contrast.

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