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

Artist's impression of Mars Express.  The wallpaper is based on a real image of Mars captured by the spacecraft's high-resolution stereo camera.

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

Dial-up Internet Days, AOL Instant Messenger and Myspace may be over on Earth, but on Mars, the early years of the internet are still alive. Spacecraft from Mars has been running software built for over 20 years in a proprietary environment based on Microsoft Windows 98, and the upgrade is long overdue.

The European Space Agency (ESA) is Update that it Mars Express MARSIS (Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding) programme, 19 years after the spacecraft’s launch. 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 toward the planet using a massive 131-foot (40-meter) antenna, as the Mars Express spacecraft orbits around Mars.

MARSIS does all of this using very old software that hasn’t been updated since the launch of the spacecraft in June 2003. The software is built in a Windows 98-based environment, which doesn’t work with the Internet in the modern age 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 began,” Andrea Sechetti, deputy principal investigator at MARSIS, who led development of the upgrade, said in a statement. statement.

The new program was designed by Italy’s National Institute of Astrophysics, which operates the spacecraft. The team responsible for the new program has implemented a number of upgrades 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 the surface of Mars, and to study Phobos at all, we relied on a complex technology that stores a lot of high-resolution data and fills the memory on the device very quickly,” Chiquiti said. “By ignoring data we don’t need, the new software allows us to run MARSIS for 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. As MARSIS abandons the era of Windows 98 The software, will be able to scan those areas faster, using high-resolution data. Knowing whether Mars had liquid water is crucial to knowing whether the planet was at all habitable during its early history, and whether it might have hosted some form of life.

Mars Express has worked hard for the past 19 years, extending the spacecraft’s mission seven times so far. Although it is currently the least expensive ESA mission, Mars Express provides valuable data on Mars and its moon Phobos. And with the new software update, the team behind the spacecraft expects even greater things from this old orbiter. “It’s really like having a brand new instrument on board a Mars Express almost 20 years after it was launched,” Chiquiti said.

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