Windows 98 system inside ESA's Mars water-finder is finally getting an upgrade

Windows 98 logo beside the Mars Express craft

Windows 98 was released by Microsoft back in 1998 which means in 2022 today, it's more than 20 years old and something that most have forgotten. However, a recent major announcement by the European Space Agency (ESA) has brought Windows 98 back to the spotlight once more.

The Agency says that it is upgrading the software inside its MARSIS instrument in order to enhance its performance and capabilities. Carlo Nenna, an engineer who is developing and implementing the new change says that one of challenges holding back the performance of MARSIS was its old Windows 98-based software. Nenna says:

We faced a number of challenges to improve the performance of MARSIS.

Not least because the MARSIS software was originally designed over 20 years ago, using a development environment based on Microsoft Windows 98!

For those wondering, the MARSIS instrument, which is short for Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding, is part of the Mars Express orbiter that helps look for water on Mars. With its help in 2018, the ESA was able to find a persistent water supply source for the first time.

Andrea Cicchetti, the Deputy Principal Investigator for MARSIS explains that one of the benefits of the software upgrade is that it frees up a lot of memory space as it discards unnecessary high-resolution imagery. This allows MARSIS to operate far longer now than was possible previously. Andrea says:

By discarding data that we don’t need, the new software allows us to switch MARSIS on for five times as long and explore a much larger area with each pass.

Mars Express scientist Colin Wilson further adds to this saying that with the software upgrade MARSIS is like a completely new instrument as its efficiency has been much improved.

There are many regions near the south pole on Mars in which we may have already seen signals indicating liquid water in lower-resolution data.

The new software will help us more quickly and extensively study these regions in high resolution and confirm whether they are home to new sources of water on Mars. It really is like having a brand new instrument on board Mars Express almost 20 years after launch.

You can find the official press release here.

Via: The Register

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