Economy & Business

Mars Rover Gets Software Upgrade… From Windows 98

Designing, building, and testing a spacecraft isn’t cheap — not to mention the cost of launching it and sending it on a journey to another planet. That means once a spacecraft is in place, like the Mars Express spacecraft which is in orbit around Mars, it stays there for as long as possible, so scientists and researchers can get the most use out of it. Mars Express was launched in 2003 and is coming up to 20 years old, but it’s still gathering useful data. Its software, however, is pretty ancient by this point, so recently the European Space Agency (ESA) gave it an upgrade.

One of Mars Express’ instruments for measuring the planet’s surface and subsurface is called the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding, more commonly referred to as MARSIS. The team in charge of the instrument from the Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica (INAF) in Italy decided it was time for an update — though this wasn’t easy because the software running the instrument was so old.

“We faced a number of challenges to improve the performance of MARSIS,” says the person in charge of the instrument upgrade, Carlo Nenna. “Not least because the MARSIS software was originally designed over 20 years ago, using a development environment based on Microsoft Windows 98!” Nenna’s team was able to design new software that will improve the performance of the instrument, including better signal reception and faster data processing. This will allow the instrument to collect more science data in longer passes. Read more…

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