Mars Express Orbital Blade Update After 19 Years

Mars Express Orbital Blade Update After 19 Years

The software on ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft will be upgraded after nearly two decades, giving the orbiter’s capabilities to search for water under the planet and study its largest moon, Phobos.

Launched on June 2, 2003, the Mars Express initially consisted of two components: the Mars Express Orbiter and the Beagle 2 Lander. Unfortunately, the probe failed to contact Earth after its launch and arrival at the surface of the Red Planet. Presumably it was lost. However, the probe is still operational after 19 years in service, and orbits Mars.

Now, engineers at the Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica (INAF) in Italy are revamping the spacecraft program. The upgrade will allow the Mars Express Orbiter to continue searching for closed water under the surface of Mars with the MARSIS radio wave instrument and more efficiently monitor the planet’s closest satellite, Phobos. Today, MARSIS is operated by INAF and funded by the Italian Space Agency.

Specifically, according to the European Space Agency, the orbiter, which is millions of miles from Earth, will receive “a series of upgrades that improve on-board signal reception and data processing to increase the quantity and quality of scientific data sent back to Earth.” It appears that part of the update will simplify its operations and communications to reduce information collected by onboard sensors to only what is needed.

“Previously, to study the most important features on the surface of Mars, and ever study Phobos, we relied on a complex technology that stores a lot of high-resolution data and fills the memory on the device very quickly,” Andrea Chieti, deputy principal investigator at MARSIS and director of operations at INAF explained, Who is leading the upgrade process, in a statement.

“By ignoring data we don’t need, the new software allows us to run MARSIS five times longer and explore a much larger area with each pass.”

Thus, Mars Express will continue to search for water signs near the south pole of Mars with high accuracy. Colin Wilson, a scientist working on the mission, said the software is “like having an entirely new instrument on board…nearly 20 years after launch.”

“The upgrade of the MARSIS radar software on board shows that it is possible to renew an entire mission,” Chiquiti said. record in the current situation.

“I am not at all surprised that such a mission is still in flight after 19 years [have been] I’ve been working on it every day since its launch, and I’m sure Mars Express will give us the potential to make many other discoveries in the coming years that will help us better understand our planet. “

Mars Express was the European Space Agency’s first planetary mission, and is the second oldest active spacecraft orbiting a planet other than Earth. The oldest one is NASA’s 2001 Mars Odyssey. Pushing new software into such an old orbiter after such a long time is tricky, according to Carlo Nina, an engineer at Enginium, an Italian IT consultancy helping to kick-start the upgrade.

“We have faced a number of challenges to improve the performance of MARSIS,” he said. “Not least because MARSIS was originally built over 20 years ago, using a development environment based on Microsoft Windows 98!”

The spacecraft carries seven instruments, including several cameras, spectrometers and a radar altimeter, to study the Martian atmosphere, climate and geology. Mars Express was the first to detect signs of water ice and carbon dioxide ice on the planet, leading scientists to wonder if it could ever be habitable. It also collected data that hinted at signs of methane, possibly forged in the hot furnace of volcanoes long ago.

Finally, the orbiting spacecraft has provided astronomers with some of the most detailed images of Phobos. The Martian moon is shaped like a potato, with an uneven surface pierced in contrast to Earth’s round moon. ®

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