The days of dial-up internet, AOL Instant Messenger and Myspace may be over on Earth, but on Mars the early years of the Internet are still alive. A Martian spacecraft runs software designed more than 20 years ago in its own Microsoft Windows 98-based environment and has long been upgraded.
The European Space Agency (ESA) is update his Mars Express orbiting MARSIS software (Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Jooniospheric Sounding) 19 years after the spacecraft was launched. The MARSIS instrument, the first radar sounder in orbit on another planet, helped detect evidence of water on Mars in 2018. MARSIS sends low-frequency radio waves to the planet using a huge 131-foot (40-meter) antenna, such as the Mars Express spacecraft. orbits Mars.
MARSIS does all this using highly outdated software that has not been updated since the spacecraft’s launch in June 2003. The software is designed in a Windows 98-based environment that does not work with the modern Internet unless you jump through many hoops. “After decades of fruitful science and a good understanding of Mars, we wanted to go beyond the instrument beyond some of the limits required since the beginning of the mission,” said Andrea Chicketti, MARSIS Deputy Principal Investigator in charge of superstructure development. in a statement.
The new software was designed by the National Institute of Astrophysics in Italy, which operates spacecraft. The team behind the new software has implemented a number of upgrades that will improve the tool’s ability to send and receive signals, as well as its on-board data processing, “to increase the quantity and quality of scientific data sent to Earth,” according to ESA.
“Before, to study the most important features of Mars and study its Phobos moon in general, we relied on a sophisticated technique that stored a lot of high-resolution data and filled the instrument’s built-in memory very quickly,” Cicchetti said. “By discarding data we don’t need, the new software allows us to turn on MARSIS five times longer and explore a much larger area with each pass.”
The new software will be used to study regions near the south pole of Mars, where signs of liquid water on the Red Planet have previously been found in lower-resolution data. With MARSIS, it is abandoning the era of Windows 98 software, it will be able to explore these regions much faster using high-resolution data. Finding out if Mars had liquid water is crucial to finding out if the planet was ever habitable in its early history and if it could have hosted some form of life.
Mars Express has been working hard for the past 19 years, with the spacecraft’s mission extended seven times so far. Although this is currently the cheapest ESA mission, Mars Express provides valuable data about Mars and its moon Phobos. And with the new software update, the team behind the spacecraft expects bigger things from this retro orbiter. “It’s really like having a brand new instrument on board the Mars Express almost 20 years after launch,” Chicketti said.