EURO-CARES - A European Sample Curation Facility for Sample Return Missions

Russell, Sara; Smith, Caroline; Hutzler, Aurore; Meneghin, Andrea; Berthoud, Lucy; Aleon, Jerome; Bennett, Allan; Bridges, John; Brucato, John Robert; Debaille, Vinciane; Dryer, Ben; Ferriere, Ludovic; Folco, Luigi; Foucher, Frederic; Franchi, Ian; Gemelli, Maurizio; Gounelle, Matthieu; Grady, Monica; Guest, Mike; Holt, John; Leuko, Stefan; Longobardo, Andrea; Marrocchi, Yves; Palomba, Ernesto; Pottage, Thomas; Rettberg, Petra; Rotundi, Alessandra; Vrublevskis, John; Westall, Frances and Zipfel, Jutta (2019). EURO-CARES - A European Sample Curation Facility for Sample Return Missions. In: 2019 IEEE Aerospace Conference, IEEE, pp. 1–9.



EURO-CARES (European Curation of Astromaterials Returned from the Exploration of Space) was a three-year multinational project (2015–2017) funded by the European Commission's Horizon 2020 research programme. The objective of EURO-CARES was to create a roadmap for the implementation of a European Extra-terrestrial Sample Curation Facility (ESCF). This facility was intended to be suitable for the curation of samples from return missions from the Moon, asteroids, Mars, and other bodies of the Solar System. The EURO-CARES project covered five technical areas, led by scientists and engineers from institutions across Europe. 1. Planetary Protection: Planetary protection requirements and implementation approaches were assessed by experts and guided by international policy. Existing sterilization methods and techniques were reviewed. It was found that measures already employed for high containment biosafety facilities are suitable for a restricted sample return mission. However, the development of certain technologies, such as a ‘double walled’ isolator, remote manipulation, integration of scientific analytical instruments, etc., is also required. 2. Facilities and Infrastructure: Aspects from building design to storage of the samples were examined in the project. Requirements for the facility included that it contained a receiving laboratory, a cleaning and opening laboratory, a bio-assessment laboratory, a curation laboratory, and sample storage. Different design solutions were prepared in collaboration with architects. 3. Instruments and Methods: The methodology of characterisation of returned samples and the instrument base required at the ESCF were determined. The analyses provide an appropriate level of characterisation while ensuring minimal contamination and minimal alteration of the sample. When the samples are returned to Earth, several stages of studies would be conducted. 4. Analogue Samples: Analogue proxy samples were considered critical for testing sample handling, preparation techniques, storage conditions, planetary protection measures, as well as to validate new analytical methods. A list of useful analogue samples has been assembled. 5. Sample Transport: The Earth re-entry capsule from a sample return mission is targeted at a specific landing ellipse on Earth and must then be transported safely to the ESCF in an appropriate transport container. Lessons learned from past sample return missions show that preparations for recovery included: training of the recovery team for every possible scenario, possible temporary facilities nearby the landing site, environmental measurements and collection of samples at the landing site, added to this if necessary, would be planetary protection measures. In conclusion, long-term curation of extra-terrestrial samples requires that the samples are kept clean to minimize the risk of Earth contaminants, at the same time as contained, in case of a restricted sample return. This work describes a roadmap for a combined high containment and ultraclean European sample curation facility and the development of the necessary novel scientific and engineering methods and techniques.

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