The MARSIS instrument on ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft is famous for its role in finding signs of liquid water on the Red Planet. It is receiving a significant software boost that will allow it to see beneath the surfaces of Mars and its moon Phobos in more detail than ever before.
The Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding (MARSIS) instrument on Mars Express was crucial in investigating and discovering indications of liquid water on Mars, involving a suspected 20-by-30 km lake of salty water concealed under 1.5 km of ice in the southern polar region.
Regulated by the Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica (INAF), Italy, and entirely funded by the Italian Space Agency (ASI), MARSIS delivers low-frequency radio waves down towards the planet through its 40-meter-long antenna.
Most of these waves bounce back from the planet’s surface. Still, considerable amounts travel through the crust and are reflected at barriers between layers of several materials below the surface, containing ice, soil, rock, and water.
By assessing the reflected signals, scientists can understand the structure beneath the surface of the Red Planet to a depth of a few kilometers and research properties like the thickness and configuration of its polar ice caps and the properties of volcanic and sedimentary rock layers.
“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,” announces Andrea Cicchetti, MARSIS Deputy PI and Operation Manager at INAF, who oversaw the development of the upgrade.