The Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Exploration (MARSIS) instrument on the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Mars Express spacecraft will undergo a major software upgrade to improve its capabilities. Mars Express, ESA’s first mission to Mars, launched on June 2, 2003, and it ran Windows 98. It is equipped with the MARSIS instrument, which has found signs of liquid water on the Red Planet. MARSIS, operated by the Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica (INAF) in Italy, uses a 40-meter antenna to beam low-frequency radio waves to Earth. While most of these waves would bounce off the Martian surface, some waves would manage to penetrate and bounce off boundaries between layers and different materials such as rock, water, and ice.
Scientists then study the reflected signals, which they are able to use to map the structure of the subsurface planet. It allows them to study the thickness, composition and other properties of materials that exist several kilometers below the Earth’s surface.
Now, scientists are preparing to upgrade MARSIS’ software to more efficiently explore the planet and its moon Phobos and send back detailed information.
“After decades of fruitful scientific exploration and a deep understanding of Mars, we wanted the performance of our instruments to go beyond some of the constraints that were required at the beginning of the mission,” said Andrea Cicchetti, MARSIS Deputy PI and Operations Manager at INAF, who led the evolution of the upgrade.
The upgrade will increase MARSIS’s signal reception and onboard processing speed so it can send better quality and more data to Earth. Andrea shared that earlier they used a sophisticated technique to study the characteristics of Mars and Phobos. However, it is used to store high-resolution data and occupies the instrument’s onboard memory.
“By discarding data we don’t need, the new software allows us to keep MARSIS open five times longer and explore larger areas with each pass,” Andrea added. The new software will allow scientists to better analyze regions of Mars’ south pole where they have already seen signs of liquid water in low-resolution data.
“It’s really like having a brand new instrument onboard Mars Express nearly 20 years after launch,” he added.
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