• MARSIS (Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding) Phase E (2004/2006)
    Planning Tool, Commanding Tool, Quick Look Tool, Level 2 Tool, Geographic Visualization Tool implementation
  • Prosecution of the research activities of MARSIS radar-Phase E (2007)

CO.RI.S.T.A. has participated in the research activities of MARSIS Phase E project.

A space mission can be divided into the following phases:
Phase A: in this phase the mission scenarios, the operative principles and the functional requirements are preliminarely provided, together with the initial system architecture, performances and configuration.
Phase B: in this phase the operative and functional requirements, the mission system architecture, performances and configuration are consolidated.
Phase C/D: it is the operative phase, which has to provide the whole project's implementation policy and the requirements and constraints of the system operative plan.
Phase E: this is the last phase of the mission for the support to the launch site operations and to the mission effective execution, with all what it involves.

MARSIS - Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding - is one of the seven instruments mounted onboard the spacecraft of the European mission  Mars Express.
The project of the radar, in the responsibility of the Italian Space Agency, has been developed by Thales Alenia Space Italia in collaboration with NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and it has an Italian Principal Investigator of the University of Rome "La Sapienza".
CO.RI.S.T.A. has been responsible for the activities concerning MARSIS Ground Segment, one of the project elements devoted to the instrument control and monitoring, able to receive and process on the earth the scientific data sent by the radar onboard the orbiter.

In particular CO.RI.S.T.A., on behalf of Thale Alenia Space Italia, carried out the following activities:

  • Long Term PLANNING Tool - to be used in the Long Term Planning, to compute six months long instrument orbit timelines;
  • COMMANDING Tool - a tool to perform a detailed Short-Term Planning and to generate all the necessary commanding parameters;
  • Science Data QUICK LOOK Tool
  • - This is an operational Tool to be used for a quick evaluation of the performances of the instrument after Science Data De-Formatting;
  • Science Data LEVEL 2 Tool
  • - This tool has been added to satisfy the general planning requirements of the Scientific Community and to allow cross- correlation between the observation activity of MARSIS and of other instruments, also belonging to different missions.

The project started in April 2004.


MARSIS is an unique type of low-frequency (1.3-5.5 MHz) ground penetrating radar, which can operate as a Subsurface Sounder at an altitude below 800km and as a Ionosphere Sounder at an altitude below 1200km.
"Spaceborne ground penetrating radar sounding has been attempted only once before, in a successful experiment during one of the Apollo lunar missions. MARSIS will be the first such radar to look for underground water. It is unique."says Giovanni Picardi, MARSIS Principal Investigator from the University of Rome "La Sapienza", Italy.

MARSIS, with its 40m antenna, has the task to sound Mars surface to a depth of some few kilometers.
It has been designed with the primary object of producing a map of water distribution at a solid and/or liquid state in the upper layers of Mars crust. As a secondary object the instrument must carry out an accurate geological investigation of Mars subsoil, a punctual characterisation of the planet surface and a sounding of the Martian ionosphere , with a global measurement of the electrons density and an investigation of sun and sun wind impact on it.
On Earth such an instrument is typically operated from the ground or from an aircraft, to look for water or buried objects, a few tens of meters below ground. On Mars it will operate up to a few kilometers under the crust of Mars from its vantage-point onboard Mars Express. It will provide information not only on the presence of water, but also on the global composition of the investigated area, probing the planet total surface.
The best ground penetrating information will be gathered during the night when Mars ionosphere is less active and Mars Express is at an altitude below 800km, a condition which occurs for 26 minutes during each orbit.
On the contrary, the information on the ionosphere will be better during the day, in fact the sunlight ionises the upper atmosphere, that is it charges it electrically, and the radar radio waves interact with the ionosphere, supplying information on its structure.
Now we know that once the water flowed on Mars surface, while today it exists only in its thin atmosphere as water vapor, which occasionally condenses and becomes ice in some colder areas of the planet.
The information provided by Mars Global Surveyor (NASA mission begun on the 7th of November 1996 and ended in January 2003), are that occasionally some liquid water comes out on the surface, but, if it occurs, it does not remain on the surface for long.
Therefore one can wonder where the water, which certainly existed on the red planet, has gone. Many experiments onboard Mars Express aim to explain the mechanisms which have led to the present situation.
Surely the great part of the existing water has lost to space with the Martian atmosphere. As for the remaing part, many planetologists believe that a a lot of water must still be in Mars subsoil and the recent results of Mars Global Surveyor confirm this opinion.
MARSIS (Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding) radar aims to map Mars underground water and ice.

CO.RI.S.T.A. papers on the project:

  • O.Bombaci, D.Calabrese, F.Bernardini, ALENIA SPAZIO; M.Bortone, L.Citarella, R.Fusco, S.Mattei, A.Minoliti, C.Papa, CO.RI.S.T.A.; "MUGS-MARSIS Utilisation Ground Segment" International Mars Conference, Ischia, Italy, September 19-23, 2004.       
  • Flamini, E.; Fois, F.; Calabrese, D.; Bombaci, O.; Catallo, C.; Croce, A.; Croci, R.; Guelfi, M.; Zampolini, E.; Picardi, G.; Seu, R.; Mecozzi, R.; Biccari, D.; Cartacci, M.; Cicchetti, A.; Masdea, A.; Alberti, G.; Maffei, S.; Papa, C. "Sounding Mars with SHARAD & MARSIS", Advanced Ground Penetrating Radar, 2007 4th International Workshop on , Issue Date: 27-29 June 2007.       
  • Fois, F.; Mecozzi, R.; Iorio, M.; Calabrese, D.; Bombaci, O.; Catallo, C.; Croce, A.; Croci, R.; Guelfi, M.; Zampolini, E.; Ravasi, D.; Molteni, M.; Ruggeri, P.; Ranieri, A.; Ottavianelli, M.; Flamini, E.; Picardi, G.; Seu, R.; Biccari, D.; Orosei, R.; Cartacci, M.; Cicchetti, A.; Masdea, A.; Giacomoni, E.; Cutigni, M.; Provenziani, M.; Fuga, O.; Alberti, G.; Mattei, S.; Papa, C.; Marras, P.; Tattarletti, B.; Vicari, D.; Bonaventura, F.; Paterṇ, T.; Di Placido, A.; Morlupi, A. "Comparison between MARSIS & SHARAD results", Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium, 2007. IGARSS 2007. IEEE International , Issue Date: 23-28 July 2007.       

Degree thesis developed on this subject:

  • "Postprocessing algorithms for MARSIS data calibration", Salvatore Dinardo, academic year 2004-2005, Second University of Naples, Faculty of Engineering, Aerospace Engineering Department.      

  • "Algorithms of superficial clutter cancellation for MARSIS mission ", Mario Graziano, academic year 2004-2005, Second University of Naples, Faculty of Engineering, Aerospace Engineering Department.      

  • "Balance algorithms of ionospheric effects on radar signals in Martian atmosphere", Damiano Laurenza, academic year 2004-2005, Second University of Naples, Faculty of Engineering, Aerospace Engineering.      
  • Degree thesis "Algorithms for the balance of the ionospheric delay on the signal transmitted by MARSIS radar", developed by Espedito Rusciano, academic year 2005-2006, Second University of Naples, Faculty of Engineering, Department of Aerospace Engineering.      

For further information please contact:

Stefania Mattei
phone: +39-081-5935101

Mars Express Mission:

Mars-North Pole, ice and dust.
This images has been taken by the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) on board ESA's Mars Express spacecraft.
Credits: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)

Olympus Mons, 25km high, is the highest volcano in the Solar System

Valley networks suggest that rivers once flowed on Mars

Mars-Albor Tholus, High Resolution Stereo Camera, 19.01.2004.
Photo ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)