Patch management for the latest versions of Windows might be on the minds of most of us here on Earth, but in the meantime, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Mars Express spacecraft has received the first update to its Windows 98 based system in 19 years.
The mission was first launched to discover signs of liquid water on Mars, including a suspected 20 x 30 km saltwater lake buried under 1.5 km of ice in the Red Planet’s south polar region. .
The updates were carried out by engineers at the Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica (INAF), Italy, and were fully funded by the Italian Space Agency (ASI).
What does it mean?
The agency said the upgrade will allow the spacecraft to see Mars and its moon Phobos in better levels of detail.
The Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding (MARSIS) instrument on Mars Express sends low-frequency radio waves toward the planet using its 40-meter-long antenna.
Most of these waves are reflected from the planet’s surface, but significant amounts pass through the crust and are reflected at the boundaries between layers of different materials below the surface, including ice, soil, rock, and water.
By examining the reflected signals, scientists can map the structure below the surface of Mars to a depth of a few kilometers and study properties such as the thickness and composition of its polar ice caps and the properties of volcanic and sedimentary rock layers. .
The space agency didn’t go into specifics about the specs of the hardware receiving the update, though. Tom’s gear speculated it might have a Pentium 90 processor, meaning it could potentially run classic games like Doom and explore the secrets of Mars.
“Previously, to study the most important features of Mars, and to study its moon Phobos, we relied on a complex technique that stored lots of high-resolution data and filled the instrument’s onboard memory very quickly,” said Andrea Cicchetti, MARSIS Deputy Principal Researcher and Head of Operations at INAF.
He added: “By removing 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.