The Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding (MARSIS) instrument on the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Mars Express spacecraft is getting a major software upgrade that will expand its capabilities. The Mars Express was ESA’s first mission to Mars, launched on June 2, 2003 and running under Windows 98. It is equipped with the MARSIS instrument that had detected signs of liquid water on the Red Planet. Operated by the Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica (INAF), Italy, MARSIS sends low-frequency radio waves to the planet using a 40-meter antenna. While most of these waves are reflected from the surface of Mars, some manage to penetrate and be reflected from the boundaries between layers and from various materials such as rocks, water and ice.
The reflected signals are then studied by scientists who can use them to map the structure of the planet below the surface. It allows them to study thickness, composition and other properties of materials located several kilometers below the Earth’s surface.
Now scientists are ready to upgrade MARSIS’ software, making it more efficient at exploring the planet and its moon Phobos and returning detailed information.
“After decades of fruitful science and an understanding of Mars, we wanted to push the instrument’s performance beyond some of the limitations needed when the mission began,” said Andrea Cicchetti, MARSIS Deputy PI and Operation Manager at INAF, who led the development of the upgrade.
The upgrade will improve the signal reception and built-in processing speed of MARSIS so that it can send better quality and a larger amount of data to Earth. Andrea said they previously used a complex technique to study the features of Mars and Phobos. But it is used to store high-resolution data and eat up the internal memory of the instrument.
“By throwing away data we don’t need, the new MARSIS software allows us to turn on MARSIS five times as long and explore a much larger area with each pass,” Andrea adds. The new software will allow scientists to better analyze some regions of Mars’ south pole, where they’ve already seen signs of liquid water, using low-resolution data.
“It’s really like having a brand new instrument aboard Mars Express nearly 20 years after launch,” he added.
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