ESA Mars probe receives software upgrade developed with Windows 98

The European Space Agency (ESA) announced this week that the MARSIS instrument on ESA's Mars Express spacecraft will receive a major software upgrade. This should enable better research results with the nearly 2-decade-old Mars probe. The remarkable thing is that the software for the instrument was developed using Windows 98 at the time.


MARSIS was developed by the University of Rome, Italy, in collaboration with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. It installed in ESA's Mars Express spacecraft to find signs of liquid water on the planet Mars. The MARSIS (Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding) instrument has been instrumental in the search for and discovery of signs of liquid water on Mars, including a suspected 20-km-by-30-km lake of salty water buried beneath a 1.5-km-thick layer of ice in the southern polar region.

MARSIS Data, Source: ESA

Mars Express was ESA's first mission to the Red Planet and was launched 19 years ago, on June 2, 2003. The orbiter is still working and has spent nearly two decades studying the planet from orbit. The results helped revolutionize the understanding of the history, present and future of Mars.

Upgrade for software developed with Windows 98

"After decades of successful research and a good understanding of Mars, we wanted to increase the instrument's performance beyond some of the limitations that were required at the beginning of the mission," says Andrea Cicchetti, deputy MARSIS PI and operations manager at INAF, who led the development of the upgrade.

"We faced a number of challenges to improve MARSIS performance," says Carlo Nenna, MARSIS on-board software engineer at Enginium, which is implementing the upgrade. "Not least because MARSIS software was originally developed over 20 years ago using a Microsoft Windows 98-based development environment!"


The new software was developed jointly by the INAF team and Carlo and is now being implemented by ESA on Mars Express. It includes a series of upgrades that will improve on-board signal reception and data processing to increase the amount and quality of science data sent to Earth.

"In order to study the most important features of Mars and its moon Phobos at all, we previously relied on a complex technique that stored a lot of high-resolution data and filled the instrument's on-board memory very quickly," Andrea says.

"By discarding data we don't need, the new software allows us to turn MARSIS on for five times as long and explore a much larger area with each pass."

"There are many regions near the south pole on Mars where we have already seen signals suggestive of liquid water in lower resolution data," adds ESA Mars Express scientist Colin Wilson. More details can be read here. Via: The Register

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