Planetary protections was one of the first ACT research categories, started up in 2002, it immediately convinced ESA's HME department of its importance in the framework of Aurora.
Planetary Protection - a European Perspective
The proposed Aurora Exploration Programme will give ESA new responsibilities in the field of planetary protection. If ESA will have the lead in planetary missions, especially to Mars, ESA will have to guarantee the compliance with internationally accepted planetary protection guidelines (COSPAR regulations). Until now, ESA had only limited exposure to planetary protection from its missions (i.e. Huygens, Rosetta and Mars Express) and only for low planetary protection categories. With the proposed ExoMars Mission and a Mars Sample Return Mission, however, ESA will have to address the issue for the highest planetary protection levels (Category IVc for ExoMars and Category IVc for forward and V (restricted Earth return) for backward contamination for a Mars Sample Return Mission). These high planetary protection categories require special attention already at the level of material selection for spacecraft components and assembly, and might also impact mission operations.
In this context, the Advanced Concepts Team started an initiative to prepare the agency for this new challenge. The first step was to start a Planetary Protection Working Group (PPWG), which reports to the Life and Physical Science Advisory Committee (LPSAC). The PPWG consist of several recognised experts from the fields of medical and pharmaceutical sterilization, material science, analytical chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry and space science. Their first task is to define planetary protection guidelines for Aurora's ExoMars mission. Their recommendations, however, will have applications to other potential planetary missions with similar planetary protection requirements. In parallel, an advisory group is in charge of evaluating the ethical and legal aspects of planetary protection. ESA has also initiated the assessment of the biological cleanliness in a number of different spacecraft assembly and launch facilities. National agencies with experience in the field of planetary protection are involved at all stages of this initiative. This effort is coordinated with COSPAR and the NASA planetary protection officer. Work in this domain is currently being conducted within the Agency's Directorate of Human Spaceflight , Microgravity & Exploration (D/HME).
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