New planetary protection project aims to reduce the risk of contamination between planets during space missions

Monday 16 October 2023

Press contact

Press Team

Coventry University has joined a consortium aiming to decrease the risks of cross contamination between planets from space probes exploring our solar system.

The project, led by the Open University (OU) in Milton Keynes, is developing biosecurity measures and risk assessments to control microbial contamination as part of an advanced planetary protection approach.

Planetary protection is a guiding principle in the design of space missions as it aims to prevent contamination of Earth and other planets in our social system while exploring space.

The concept has received increased attention over recent years due to the emergence of new spacefaring countries and the growing involvement of commercial parties.

Professor Jonathan Carter from Coventry University’s Research Centre for Fluid and Complex Systems (FCS) is working on the project with Professor Karen Olsson-Francis from the OU and Professor Mark Sephton from Imperial College London. The initiative is being funded by the UK Space Agency International Bilateral Fund.

International standards for planetary protection have been conducted through consultation with the scientific community and the space agencies by the Committee on Space Research’s Panel on Planetary Protection (COSPAR), which also provides guidance for compliance with the Outer Space Treaty of 1967.

The university consortium aims to influence COSPAR’s international policy on planetary protection and address the knowledge gaps and constraints of the mathematical models needed to update and modernise the guidelines.

By advancing the ways in which we prevent contamination of not only our own planet but others in our solar system, we guarantee the integrity of the search and study of possible extra-terrestrial life forms.

It is a delight to work with UK partners and international space agencies to spearhead this ground-breaking approach and create a new era for planetary missions.

Professor Jonathan Carter, Centre for Fluid and Complex Systems, Coventry University

These are exciting times in space exploration, but as we see commercial opportunities increase and more exploration missions take off, it’s imperative that we act responsibly and continue to review our approach to protecting against biological and organic contamination – both of our own planet and of other worlds beyond our own.

Professor Anu Ojha, Engagement, International and Inspiration Director at the UK Space Agency

FCS aims to deliver real-world solutions to complex scientific challenges, whether they are in nature, space, society or our imagination.

Find out more about the Centre for Fluid and Complex Systems.