Mars Express Orbiter receives software update for onboard water search tool

(ORDO NEWS) — The European Space Agency (ESA) is updating the software on its veteran Martian orbiter, Mars Express, to provide more detailed images of material beneath the surfaces of Mars and its moon Phobos.

The Mars Express probe has been orbiting the Red Planet since December 2003, studying its atmosphere, taking images of the surface, and even looking below the surface for signs of water. Now, the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding (MARSIS) onboard instrument, which helped detect in 2018 the traces of a salt water lake located at a depth of 1.5 kilometers under a layer of ice in the southern polar region of the planet, will receive a software update, increasing resolution and water-search capabilities.

“It’s like we got a brand new instrument aboard the Mars Express spacecraft almost 20 years after it was launched,” ESA’s Colin Wilson, a member of the Mars Express probe’s science team, said in a statement.

The MARSIS instrument is managed by the National Astrophysical Institute of Italy. The instrument includes a 40-meter antenna that sends low-frequency radio waves to the surface of Mars and receives back waves reflected from subsurface material.

Analyzing these reflected waves allows scientists to distinguish between layers of different materials such as ice, rocks and water.

Installed updates will optimize the algorithms for signal reception and computer data processing on board the device, and this, in turn, will make it possible to remove unnecessary data, thereby freeing up computer memory.

The new process will improve the quantity and quality of scientific data sent to Earth from the MARSIS instrument, taking research conducted using it to a new level.

Scientists are currently planning a “test drive” for the installed system update. “There are many regions in the vicinity of the south pole of Mars where we have previously observed signals indicating the presence of water in liquid form when we made observations at lower resolutions,” Wilson said in a statement.

“This new software will allow us to more quickly and in detail study these areas in high resolution and understand whether they contain new sources of water on Mars.”

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