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European Curation of Astromaterials Returned from the Exploration of Space

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - EURO-CARES (European Curation of Astromaterials Returned from the Exploration of Space)

Reporting period: 2016-01-01 to 2017-12-31

[1] Review the current state of the art in extraterrestrial sample curation, by examining the work being done in Europe and internationally and to write a technical report on current best practice;
[2] Devise a plan for terrestrial planetary protection that is effective, legally compliant and realistic, while minimising risk to current scientific study and optimising access to researchers for future studies;
[3] Review current knowledge and the essential requirements for such facilities, including building infrastructure and design, procedures and protocols, security, environmental conditions, documentation and databasing;
[4] Review the most suitable instrumentation for sample analysis, establish the optimum methods and instrumentation and identify those areas in which innovation and development will be required to enhance the curation and analytical capabilities of the ESCF;
[5] Make recommendations regarding the use of analogue samples as proxies for returned extraterrestrial materials. We will establish guidelines, deliver catalogues or potential analogues, and recommendations ready to be used in the event of a sample return mission. The analogue proxies are necessary in a curatorial facility for testing sample handling, storage and preparation techniques. This includes the testing of planetary protection measures as well as validating new analytical methods.
[6] Review suitable portable receiving facilities and determine the technology required in order to be able to transport samples (including those with a potential biohazard) following return to Earth most effectively.
At the conclusion of the action, we had successfully completed all the above tasks. The results of our work can be found on our website: which includes a link to our analogues resources.
During the reporting period, we have examined the currently-available literature on curation of sample material returned from space. Most of the literature relates to either specific missions, or to specific countries. Our aim was to draw all of this information together. This resulted in summary reports for each of the objectives above, and a list of requirements.

We held an international workshop in Greenwich, UK in August 2015. This meeting gave us the opportunity to network and form links with people from other space agencies and other stakeholders, such as industries that will be required for the facility. Team members visited the curatorial facilities of other space agencies (NASA and JAXA) in order to view the current state of the art in this field.

We have progressed from review work to progress on novel aspects of curation of sample returned from space:
Our planetary protection activities focused on biohazard detection, including defining criteria and procedures for selection of representative portions of returned samples for life/biohazard detection, recommending life detection protocols.

Our infrastructure activities have resulted in the preparation of a preliminary conceptual design of the facilities and infrastructure.
Our methods and instrumentation activities have included undertaking industry visits and collating instrument information from other curation facilities to produce a state of the art and recommendations for the European sample curation facility.

Analogue activities have investigated the characteristics necessary for analogue samples in a curatorial facility and have produced an online library of suitable analogue material.

The sample transport team have investigated preparations for Mars sample return and mechanisms for minimizing contamination and have produced recommendations for the landing site for a European mission and for transport protocols of sample to curation facility.

As part of the dissemination we have arranged a special issue of Space Science Reviews dedicated to the findings of Eurocares. This will enable our work to reach our fellow scientists and policy makers. Our work is also fully and freely available to view on our website,
While asteroidal and lunar sample return missions have been undertaken by other space agencies, a sample return mission to Mars has not, and it requires special consideration of possible biohazards that may originate on other planets. Much of our work focused on this aspect of future sample return, including defining criteria and procedures for selection of representative portions of returned samples for life/biohazard detection, reviewing protocols for life detection, and conducting reviews of testing strategies.

We explored the extent to which we should use robotic instrumentation within the facility to minimise biohazard and contamination.

We delivered a plan to communicate the project to the broader public in order to help address any concerns about returning possibly biohazardous material from space. This involved making presentations and talking to the media about the EURO-CARES project in order to educate and involve the public in this work.

Our project has been invited to present our findings in several fora including the second international Mars sample return conference, to NASA committees and the UKSA Science Oversight Committee.