The Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding instrument on Mars Express was crucial in the search for and discovery of signs of liquid water on Mars, including a suspected 20-by-30 km lake of salty water buried under 1.5 km of ice in the southern polar region.
"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 on-board software engineer at Enginium, who is implementing the upgrade.
The new software was designed together by the INAF team and Carlo, and is now being implemented on Mars Express by ESA. It includes a series of upgrades that improve signal reception and on-board data processing to increase the amount and quality of science data sent to Earth.
"Previously, to study the most important features on Mars, and to study its moon Phobos at all, we relied on a complex technique that stored a lot of high-resolution data and filled up the instrument's on-board memory very quickly," says Andrea.
"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," adds ESA Mars Express scientist Colin Wilson.
"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."
Old enough to vote in many places on Earth, Mars Express continues to deliver amazing science while remaining one of ESA's lowest-cost missions to fly.
"Mars Express and MARSIS are still very busy," says James Godfrey, Mars Express spacecraft operations manager at ESA's ESOC mission operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany.
Find out more about the other new scientific and operational activities Mars Express has recently enabled on the Mars Express blog.