NASA seeks innovative technologies to facilitate meeting back Planetary Protection objectives for a potential Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission, and to facilitate forward Planetary Protection implementation for a potential mission to Europa. Forward and back Planetary Protection concerns biological material transported from Earth, or to Earth, respectively.
Back Planetary Protection addresses the possibility that Mars material may pose a biological threat to the Earth’s biosphere. This leads to a constraint that returned samples of Mars material be contained with extraordinary robustness until they can be tested and proved harmless, or be sterilized by an accepted method. Achieving this containment goal will require new technology for several functions. Containment assurance requires “breaking the chain of contact” with Mars: the exterior of the sample container must not be contaminated with Mars material. Also, the integrity of the containment must be verified, the sealed sample container must survive the worst-case Earth impact corresponding to the candidate mission profile, and the Earth entry vehicle (EEV) must withstand the thermal and structural rigors of Earth atmosphere entry — all with an unprecedented degree of confidence.
For Europa, products and technologies are sought that can be demonstrated to be compatible with the mission prelaunch sterilization conditions and the environmental conditions of spaceflight and the Jovian system. Candidate technologies for new functions and capabilities include development of alternative sterilization solutions for sensitive spacecraft hardware, and demonstration of novel biobarrier and recontamination prevention approaches for spacecraft hardware.
Back Planetary Protection technologies for the following MSR functions are needed: container design, sealing, and verification; breaking-the-chain of contact/dust mitigation; meteoroid protection and breach detection; and reliability analysis.
Technologies are desired for the Europa mission that allow sterilization of previously non-sterilizable flight hardware (for example, sensors, battery and valve seals, and optical coatings) by either 1) dry heat processing, or 2) gamma irradiation. NASA also seeks to use 3) hydrogen peroxide vapor processes for resterilization of assembled flight hardware elements. Products and technologies are sought that can be demonstrated to be compatible with these three identified sterilization processes, as well as the environmental conditions of spaceflight and the Jovian system.
The Mars Astrobiology Explorer-Cacher (MAX-C) mission, as part of a Mars Sample Return, and the Europa Orbiter Mission, are included as high-priority efforts of the next decade. Both of these complex missions have significant Planetary Protection requirements, and can directly benefit from innovative solutions from industry.