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ESA Astrobiology

ESA's life sciences activities cover every aspect of space life sciences, including biology, physiology, biotechnology, biomedical applications, biological life-support systems, exobiology, animal research and access to ground facilities. They have included exobiology research since 1992, when the Exobiology and Radiation Assembly (ERA) flew on the Eureca mission. This approach continues with the Biopan facility on the Russian Foton missions. Four missions flew in 1992, 1994, 1997 and 1999, and the next is planned for October. In addition, EXPOSE will be installed no earlier than 2007 on the external payload site of Columbus aboard the International Space Station, mounted on a device to point the experiments towards the Sun. These facilities are helping to understand the survivability and damage/repair mechanisms of organics, microorganisms and invertebrates in space conditions.

As a logical progression from exobiology research in low Earth orbit, an Astrobiology Science Team was created to survey current research in exobiology and then formulate recommendations for a future search for life in the Solar System. (The full findings are published in ESA SP-1231.)
The main recommendation was that Mars should be ESA's prime target. Three fundamental requirements were identified for a search for life on Mars: Two parallel studies on the Exobiology Package were then carried out by Kayser-Threde (D) and Officine Galileo (I). A 15-month Phase-A/B study will begin in mid-2002. Recently, ESA commissioned a study by the Babakin Space Centre (BSC) to see if Russia could provide a low-cost mission to deploy the Exobiology Package. Also considered was cooperation in view of the Russian experience in inflatable reentry and Mars rover technologies. The main findings were that the mission is feasible with Russian technologies, using the Soyuz-FG or Dnepr rockets, that the Exobiology Package could be accommodated on a 120 kg rover, and that the Inflatable Braking Device could be used. The study focused on missions in the 2007 and 2009 Mars launch windows. In early 2002, ESA's Concurrent Design Facility confirmed the technical feasibility, although the 2009 slot is more realistic. Further studies are planned.

For the longer term, the Astrobiology Science Team highlighted other areas: