Mars Express gets software update after 19 years of service

Can you believe a Martian spacecraft is running a Windows 98 architecture-based system more than a decade after most of us ditched the operating system?

The engineers were probably very grateful to send a remote software update to the long Mars Express mission, which shows how well such software can work if you treat it correctly, even in the harshest environments. He has been working on Mars since December 2003.

The upgrade will benefit the mission’s liquid water hunter, more formally known as the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding, or MARSIS. (The Red Planet has reservoirs of water below its surface, contrasting with its dusty, radiation-soaked surface.)

The upgrade will increase the scientific performance of this already powerful instrument, ESA said in a statement. “The new software allows us to have MARSIS on five times longer and explore a much larger area with each pass,” said Andrea Cicchetti, MARSIS Deputy Principal Investigator and Operations Manager at the Italian National Institute of Astrophysics. , who led the development of the upgrade. .

Cicchetti said it was like having a whole new instrument in remote operation. Regions will be surveyed with even higher resolution, and it is likely that MARSIS will find more sources of liquid water as a result.

The mission is also keeping tabs on regions that may have had water in the past, providing more data in our quest to better understand Martian history and climate over billions of years. A recent picture from Aonia Terra, a mountainous region in the southern highlands of Mars, found channels that probably crossed a crater something like 3.5 billion years ago, for example.