The Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding (MARSIS) instrument on the European Space Agency (ESA)’s Mars Express spacecraft is about to get a software update, removing its previous operating system of Windows 98.
Nearly two decades after the Mars Express launched, the software update is expected to give new life to the orbiter that first detected water hidden under the Martian south pole. Though it's possible that may have just been a mirage, the orbiter is one of the most successful projects from the ESA, and has allowed us to study Mars's past and present like never before. The software upgrade is expected to allow the MARSIS instrument to see beneath the surfaces of Mars and one of its moons – Phobos – in unprecedented detail.
“After decades of fruitful science and having gained a good understanding of Mars, we wanted to push the instrument’s performance beyond some of the limitations required back when the mission began,” Andrea Cicchetti, MARSIS Deputy PI and Operation Manager at INAF, who led the development of the upgrade, said in a press release.
The orbiter sends low-frequency radio waves down towards the red planet, and by studying the reflected signals, scientists can map the surface and structures below it up to a depth of a few kilometers. The update is expected to improve signal reception as well as data processing on the orbiter.
“Previously, to study the most important features on Mars, and to study its moon Phobos at all, we relied on a complex technique that stored a lot of high-resolution data and filled up the instrument’s on-board memory very quickly,” Cicchetti continued.
“By discarding data that we don’t need, the new software allows us to switch MARSIS on for five times as long and explore a much larger area with each pass.”
The orbiter will continue its mission, mapping the subsurface of Mars, and looking for signs of water.
“The new software will help us more quickly and extensively study these regions in high resolution and confirm whether they are home to new sources of water on Mars," ESA Mars Express scientist Colin Wilson added.
"It really is like having a brand new instrument on board Mars Express almost 20 years after launch.”