Finally, the Mars spacecraft has been upgraded from Windows 98 Era

Artist's impression of Mars Express.  The wallpapers are based on real images of Mars captured by the spacecraft's high resolution holographic camera.

Illustration of the Mars Express spacecraft launched in 2003.
Clarification: ESA

Dial-up Internet Day, AOL Instant Messenger and Myspace may be lost on Earth, but on Mars, the early years of the internet are still alive. The Mars spacecraft has been running on software designed for more than 20 years in a proprietary environment based on Microsoft Windows 98, and is long overdue for upgrades.

The European Space Agency (ESA) is Renew that Mars Express The MARSIS (Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Probe) program, 19 years after the launch of the spacecraft. The MARSIS instrument, the first radar probe to orbit another planet, helped detect evidence of water on Mars in 2018. MARSIS sends low-frequency radio waves to the planet using a large 131-foot (40-meter) long antenna, like that used by the Mars Express orbiting spacecraft. around Mars.

MARSIS does all this using very old software that hasn’t been updated since the launch of the spacecraft in June 2003. The software is built on a Windows 98 based environment, which doesn’t work with the modern internet unless you jump through a lot of hoops. “After decades of fruitful science and gaining a good understanding of Mars, we wanted to push the device’s performance beyond some of the limitations required when the mission started,” Andrea Sechetti, deputy principal investigator at MARSIS, who led development of the upgrade, said in a statement. statement.

The new program was designed by the Italian National Institute of Astrophysics, which operates the spacecraft. The team responsible for the new program has implemented a number of improvements that will improve the instrument’s ability to send and receive signals, as well as on-board data processing “to increase the quantity and quality of scientific data sent back to Earth,” according to the European Space Agency. .

“Previously, to study the most important features on Mars, and study Phobos, we relied on complex technologies that store a lot of high-resolution data and fill the device’s memory very quickly,” said Chiquiti. “By ignoring the data we didn’t need, the new software allowed us to run MARSIS five times more and explore a much larger area with each pass.”

The new program will be used to study areas near the south pole on Mars, where signs of liquid water on the Red Planet have previously been detected in low-resolution data. When MARSIS left the Windows 98 era The software, will be able to scan the area more quickly, using high resolution data. Knowing whether Mars has liquid water is crucial to knowing whether the planet was habitable during its early history, and whether it may have harbored some life forms.

Mars Express has been hard at work for the past 19 years, expanding the spacecraft’s mission seven times so far. Although currently the cheapest ESA mission, Mars Express provides valuable data on Mars and its moon Phobos. And with a new software update, the team behind the spacecraft is expecting even bigger things from this legacy orbiter. “It’s really like having a new instrument aboard Mars Express nearly 20 years after launch,” Chiquiti said.

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