The ESA is a world-renowned organization that has been making exploits in deep space and has access to the best the tech world has to offer. However, the space agency is still forced to work with terribly old tech, as it is getting ready to perform a Windows 98 upgrade on one of its spacecraft orbiting Mars.
If you own a Microsoft Windows device, chances are you are on one of the most recent operating system versions. However, the European Space Agency is still stuck in the past in one of the most challenging places to reach; Mars orbit. The agency is about to deploy a Windows 98 upgrade to its orbiter circling the Red Planet. The spacecraft, which the ESA has been operating for nearly two decades, has a Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding (MARSIS) running software based on the ancient Windows 98 OS.
The MARSIS equipment has had its moment in the sun as it was instrumental to the discovery of a massive underground liquid water storage on Mar four years ago. Thanks to the upgrade, the orbiter will now be capable of seeing beneath the surfaces of Mars and its moon Phobos in greater detail.
MARSIS employs low-frequency radio waves bouncing off the surface of Mars to locate water and investigate the planet’s atmosphere. It has a long 130-foot antenna that can probe three miles into the surface of Mars. The impending upgrade will now enhance this to improve the quality of data it sends back to the earth. It will discard the data that is not needed and avoid filling up the onboard memory quickly. The command center has identified different regions of the planet that it wants to investigate after the upgrade is completed.
Despite the advancing years, the Mars orbiter is still going strong. It is also one of the lowest-costing missions operated by the ESA. “Mars Express and MARSIS are still very busy,” says James Godfrey, Mars Express spacecraft operations manager at ESA’s ESOC mission operations center in Darmstadt, Germany. “The team did a great job designing the new software, maximizing its impact while keeping the patches as small as possible, helping us continue to get the most out of this veteran spacecraft.”
“After decades of fruitful science and having gained a good understanding of Mars, we wanted to push the instrument’s performance beyond some of the limitations required back when the mission began,” says Andrea Cicchetti, MARSIS Deputy PI and Operation Manager at INAF, who led the development of the upgrade.
“We faced a number of challenges to improve the performance of MARSIS,” says Carlo Nenna, MARSIS onboard software engineer at Enginium, who is implementing the upgrade. “Not least because the MARSIS software was originally designed over 20 years ago, using a development environment based on Microsoft Windows 98!”
However, the ESA is not revealing the version of Windows it is upgrading the orbiter to. However, we are sure the poor processor is not getting the latest and greatest Windows 11 because it does not meet the TPM 2.0 requirement that Microsoft has been adamant about.