The Mars spacecraft from ESA is getting a Windows 98 update to boost its performance to improve its mission capabilities. Check details.
Yes, you read that right. A spacecraft orbiting around Mars is finally getting a Windows 98 update to boost its performance. Sounds weird, doesn’t it? Many of you reading this must now know about Windows 98 as well. And that’s not an issue, given that this spacecraft was launched in 2003 and has been orbiting the Red Planet for almost 19 years now. This is a long time and in the world of technology on planet Earth, this craft would be considered obsolete. After all, how many computers are you still using Windows 98, or even Windows XP, on?
The spacecraft, named Mars Express, was launched back in 2003 by the European Space Agency (ESA) and its software was based on Microsoft’s Windows 98. The spacecraft had an instrument called the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding (MARSIS). , The instrument was key to the discovery of a vast underground aquifer of liquid water back in 2018. ESA now wants to give Theocrat an upgrade to make it work even better.
Mars Express to Get Windows 98 Update
The MARSIS instrument essentially uses low-frequency radio waves to study the surface of Mars and its atmosphere for water. The spacecraft’s 130-foot-long antenna can search up to 3 miles beneath the planet’s surface. With the software update, the spacecraft should now be able to improve its signal reception and onboard data processing. This will improve the quality of data sent to Earth.
“After decades of fruitful science and gaining a good understanding of Mars, we wanted to advance the instrument’s performance beyond some of the limits required when the mission began,” says Andrea Cichetti, MARSIS Deputy PI and Operations Manager at INAF, who led the development of the upgrade.
“We faced several challenges to improve the performance of MARSIS,” says Carlo Nenna, MARSIS on-board software engineer at Enginium, who implemented the upgrade. “Not least because Marsys software was originally designed 20 years ago using a development environment based on Microsoft Windows 98!”
“Previously, in order to study the most important features on Mars, and its moon Phobos at all, we relied on a complex technique that stored a lot of high-resolution data and the instrument’s on-premises. The board used to fill up the memory very quickly,” says Andrea. “By removing data we don’t need, the new software allows us to switch MARSIS up to five times longer and explore a much larger area with each pass,” Andrea said.
With the new software, Mars Express will accelerate the study of these regions in high resolution and confirm whether they are sources of water on Mars. “It’s really like having a new instrument on Mars Express, almost 20 years after launch,” says ESA Mars Express scientist Colin Wilson.