Science and Curation Considerations for the Design of a Mars Sample Return (MSR) Sample Receiving Facility (SRF)

Brandi L. Carrier, David W. Beaty, Aurore Hutzler, Alvin L. Smith, Gerhard Kminek, Michael A. Meyer, Timothy Haltigin, Lindsay E. Hays, Carl B. Agee, Henner Busemann, Barbara Cavalazzi, Charles S. Cockell, Vinciane Debaille, Daniel P. Glavin, Monica M. Grady, Ernst Hauber, Bernard Marty, Francis M. McCubbin, Lisa M. Pratt, Aaron B. RegbergCaroline L. Smith, Roger E. Summons, Timothy D. Swindle, Kimberly T. Tait, Nicholas J. Tosca, Arya Udry, Tomohiro Usui, Michael A. Velbel, Meenakshi Wadhwa, Frances Westall, Maria Paz Zorzano

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6 Scopus citations

Abstract

The most important single element of the "ground system"portion of a Mars Sample Return (MSR) Campaign is a facility referred to as the Sample Receiving Facility (SRF), which would need to be designed and equipped to receive the returned spacecraft, extract and open the sealed sample container, extract the samples from the sample tubes, and implement a set of evaluations and analyses of the samples. One of the main findings of the first MSR Sample Planning Group (MSPG, 2019a) states that "The scientific community, for reasons of scientific quality, cost, and timeliness, strongly prefers that as many sample-related investigations as possible be performed in PI-led laboratories outside containment."There are many scientific and technical reasons for this preference, including the ability to utilize advanced and customized instrumentation that may be difficult to reproduce inside in a biocontained facility, and the ability to allow multiple science investigators in different labs to perform similar or complementary analyses to confirm the reproducibility and accuracy of results. It is also reasonable to assume that there will be a desire for the SRF to be as efficient and economical as possible, while still enabling the objectives of MSR to be achieved. For these reasons, MSPG concluded, and MSPG2 agrees, that the SRF should be designed to accommodate only those analytical activities that could not reasonably be done in outside laboratories because they are time-or sterilization-sensitive, are necessary for the Sample Safety Assessment Protocol (SSAP), or are necessary parts of the initial sample characterization process that would allow subsamples to be effectively allocated for investigation. All of this must be accommodated in an SRF, while preserving the scientific value of the samples through maintenance of strict environmental and contamination control standards. The most important single element of the "ground system"portion of a Mars Sample Return (MSR) Campaign is a facility referred to as the Sample Receiving Facility (SRF), which would need to be designed and equipped to enable receipt of the returned spacecraft, extraction and opening of the sealed sample container, extraction of the samples from the sample tubes, and a set of evaluations and analyses of the samples-all under strict protocols of biocontainment and contamination control. Some of the important constraints in the areas of cost and required performance have not yet been set by the necessary governmental sponsors, but it is reasonable to assume there will be a desire for the SRF to be as efficient and economical as is possible, while still enabling the objectives of MSR science to be achieved. Additionally, one of the main findings of MSR Sample Planning Group (MSPG, 2019a) states "The scientific community, for reasons of scientific quality, cost, and timeliness, strongly prefers that as many sample-related investigations as possible be performed in PI-led laboratories outside containment."There are many scientific and technical reasons for this preference, including the ability to utilize advanced and customized instrumentation that may be difficult to reproduce inside a biocontained facility. Another benefit is the ability to enable similar or complementary analyses by multiple science investigators in different laboratories, which would confirm the reproducibility and accuracy of results. For these reasons, the MSPG concluded-and the MSR Science Planning Group Phase 2 (MSPG2) agrees-that the SRF should be designed to accommodate only those analytical activities inside biocontainment that could not reasonably be done in outside laboratories because such activities are time-sensitive, sterilization-sensitive, required by the Sample Safety Assessment Protocol (SSAP), or are necessary parts of the initial sample characterization process that would allow subsamples to be effectively allocated for investigation. All activities within the SRF must be done while preserving the scientific value of the samples through maintenance of strict environmental and contamination control standards. The SRF would need to provide a unique environment that consists of both Biosafety Level 4 (BSL-4) equivalent containment and a very high level of contamination control. The SRF would also need to accommodate the following activities: Receipt of the returned spacecraft, presumably in a sealed shipping container De-integration (i.e., disassembly) and assessment of the returned system, beginning with the spacecraft exterior and ending with accessing and isolating all Mars material (gas, dust, regolith, and rock) Initial sample characterization, leading to development of a sample catalog sufficient to support sample allocation (see Tait et al., 2022) Science investigations necessary to complete the SSAP (see Kminek et al., 2021) Certain science investigations that are both time-and sterilization-sensitive (see Tosca et al., 2022; Velbel et al., 2022) A managed transition to post-SRF activities that would include analysis of samples (either sterilized or not) outside biocontainment and the transfer of some or all samples to one or more uncontained curation facilities The MSPG2 has produced a compilation of potential design requirements for the SRF, based on the list of activities noted above, that can be used in cost and schedule planning. The text of this report is meant to serve as an overview and explanation of these proposed SRF Design Requirements that have been compiled by the MSPG2 SRF Requirements Focus Group (Supplement 1). FINDING SRF-1: The quality of the science that can be achieved with the MSR samples will be negatively impacted if they are not protected from contamination and inappropriate environmental conditions. A significant amount of SRF infrastructure would therefore be necessary to maintain and monitor appropriate levels of cleanliness, contamination control, and environmental conditions. FINDING SRF-2: Although most MSR sample investigations would take place outside of the SRF, the SRF needs to include significant laboratory capabilities with advanced instruments and associated sample preparation systems to enable the MSR science objectives to be successfully achieved. FINDING SRF-3: Preliminary studies of different operational scenarios should be started as soon as possible to enable analysis of the trade-offs between the cost and size of the SRF and the amount of time needed to prepare the samples for allocation and analysis. FINDING SRF-4: The ability to add additional analytical capabilities within biocontainment should be preserved to address the contingency scenario in which unsterilized material is not cleared to be analyzed outside of biocontainment. If potential evidence of martian life were to be detected in the samples, for example, it would be a high priority to conduct further investigations related to any putative lifeforms, as well as to enable other sterilization-sensitive science investigations to be conducted in biocontainment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S217-S237
JournalAstrobiology
Volume22
Issue numberS1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 1 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science

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