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Planetary Protection of Outer Solar System

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - PPOSS (Planetary Protection of Outer Solar System)

Reporting period: 2017-01-01 to 2018-12-31

Planetary protection is aimed to prevent contamination of celestial bodies that would compromise the search for extraterrestrial life and to protect the Earth from extraterrestrial matter carried by spacecrafts returning from a mission. To ensure that scientific investment in space exploration is not compromised by cross-contamination, special care need to be taken by all actors and stakeholders. Current COSPAR’s planetary protection policy is mainly focused on requirements for Mars space missions. However, they are less developed for the Outer Solar System due to the lack of understanding of the environmental conditions and limited relevant microbial survivability studies.

With the increasing evidence of presence of liquid water in the Outer Solar System, the number of potential habitable environment increases, and as a consequence, the issue of contaminating other planets and moons is more important and relevant.v Therefore, updating the COSPAR planetary protection policy is timely and of the upmost importance.

In this context, the project planetary protection of Outer Solar System (PPOSS) funded by the European Commission’s H2020 Programme was kicked-off in March 2016. This project intended to provide an international platform and forum where various communities gathered and exchanged on the matter of planetary protection with a focus on Outer Solar System bodies. Through an intensive three year programme (2016-2018), the project nurtured and catalysed discussions to define strategic science and policy recommendations related to biological and organic contamination prevention in the frame of Outer Solar System bodies’ exploration. The PPOSS project, gathered seven European partner organisations, one international partner and one international observer to work together and consider how planetary protection policy had been developed so far and is being implemented. To this purpose, PPOSS considered and delineated the state of the art, identified lessons to be learnt and good practices in planetary Protection. Looking forward, PPOSS also identified scientific challenges and knowledge gaps as well as defined scientific requirements for Outer Solar System bodies planetary protection. PPOSS also involved interactions with the European industry and developed a set of European industry roadmaps and played an important role disseminating the relevance of planetary protection through a set of international trainings. The main objectives of the PPOSS project were:

1) Describe the state of the art and good practice for implementing planetary protection requirements, and identify good practices and lessons to be learnt.
2) Identify scientific challenges, scientific requirements and knowledge gaps related to planetary protection of outer solar systems bodies, including small solar system bodies.
3) Develop an European engineering roadmap for the industry sector.
4) Review of the international outer solar system planetary protection regulation structure and categorisation, suggest improvements.
5) Facilitate the dissemination of knowledge related to planetary protection.
The work performed during the project can be summarized according to project's objectives and main outputs:

Objective 1: This objective mainly focused on background research and information gathering towards compiling the International Handbook of Planetary Protection. Targeted interviews and two dedicated international workshops with representatives of space agencies, industry and the scientific community were set up to compile a first draft version of the Handbook. The final version of the Handbook was produced during 2019 and an Open Access publication will be released in 2019 in the electronic Special Issue of the COSPAR bulleting Space Research Today. Output: PPOSS International Planetary Protection Handbook

Objective 2: This objective mainly focused on identifying a roadmap of research activities to avoid the contamination of Outer Solar System bodies with Earth organisms and organics in order to preserve the scientific value of actual and future missions. Two dedicated international workshops, mainly with representatives of the scientific community, were set up to identify and document scientific challenges and knowledge gaps related to biological and organic contamination. The final version of the Research Whitebook was consolidated and the biological contamination section was submitted to journal Astrobiology for Open Access publication. The section regarding organic contamination will be formally published along 2019. Output: PPOSS Research Whitebook

Objective 3: Critical technologies required to address planetary protection of Outer Solar System bodies were identified while their availability and readiness level in Europe were defined and a roadmap of activities was suggested covering the next 15-20 years. Output: PPOSS European Industry Roadmap

Objective 4: In the context of the findings and outcome from the project, as well as targeted consultation with stakeholder, the current planetary protection regulation and guidelines was reviewed towards identifying potential improvements. A policy report where a set of recommendations for implementation and improvement was elaborated and put forward to COSPAR in a formal meeting at United Nations in Vienna on 23-24 January 2019. Output: PPOSS Policy Report

Objective 5: A total of four PPOSS international seminars took place during the three years of the project: Japan, May 11-12th 2017, USA, July 12-13th 2018, Germany, Sept 29th 2018 and China, Oct 17-18th 2018. Output: PPOSS trainings
PPOSS was envisioned to shape the future of planetary protection policy by addressing current and foreseen challenges related to Outer Solar System bodies’ exploration and their biologic and organic contamination and by improving international cooperation in this field. As a consequence, this project has the potential to significantly impact on the various phases of future space exploration missions from preliminary mission design to data exploitation.

Overall, PPOSS has allowed gaining additional knowledge on the implementation of planetary protection. PPOSS has provided a platform to discuss the state of the art, identify knowledge gaps as well as scientific and industrial challenges and suggest activities to fill these gaps and meet these challenges. The project allowed relevant communities (e.g. policy makers, scientific community, industry) to directly access and gain integrated state of the art knowledge and scientific information on planetary protection of Outer Solar System bodies. In doing so, and in supporting planetary protection policy development, PPOSS has allowed the European international planetary science community to get better prepared and more efficient when defining and designing Outer Solar System exploration scientific instrumentation. By identifying which technologies and technological capabilities are required as well as what technology developments need to be achieved to meet scientific requirements, PPOSS will allow increasing the competitiveness of European industry in building space segments with planetary protection constraints for European missions and payloads or in the frame of joint international missions. Eventually, PPOSS will allow the European scientific community to be better briefed, more knowledgeable and better prepared for future exploration missions to the outer solar system bodies.