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ExoMars planetary protection

ExoMars planetary protection

The 'Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies' (Outer Space Treaty) of 1967 sets out the general principles applicable to the exploration and use of outer space.

Harmful contamination

Article IX of the Outer Space Treaty constitutes the primary statement of international law: "States parties shall pursue studies of outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, and conduct exploration of them so as to avoid their harmful contamination and also adverse changes in the environment of the Earth resulting from the introduction of extraterrestrial matter and, when necessary, adopt appropriate measures for this purpose".

Harmful contamination in that sense is defined as biological contamination, including organic-constituents, to protect the environment and to allow future exobiology research.

Based on the Outer Space Treaty, the Committee On Space Research (COSPAR) has established a planetary protection policy with associated implementation guidelines according to five categories of target body/mission type combinations.


Planetary protection for ExoMars

ExoMars must avoid compromising the life-detection experiments

The ExoMars mission is classified as Planetary Protection Category IVb based on the mission objectives to search for life on Mars and in agreement with the COSPAR Planetary Protection Policy. The ExoMars mission does not intend to access a Mars special region.

(A special region is considered to be "... a region within which terrestrial organisms are likely to propagate, or a region which is interpreted to have a high potential for the existence of extant Martian life forms. Given current understanding, this applies to regions where liquid water is present or may occur." (Reference: COSPAR 2002 & 2005, NASA, 2005))

Requirements associated with the specific planetary protection mission category of ExoMars are applicable to:

  • The ExoMars mission
  • All ExoMars spacecraft elements, including payload
  • The ExoMars launch vehicle(s)

The implementation of planetary protection requirements for ExoMars comprise restrictions on impact probabilities for flight hardware not intended to directly contact Mars, and biological and organic contamination control for all spacecraft elements. Specifically parts of the spacecraft that come into contact with the samples from Mars have to be sterile and clean to avoid compromising the life-detection experiments.

Planetary protection course

To provide the basic background for project teams affected by planetary protection constraints, joint ESA-NASA courses on planetary protection are offered in Europe since 2004.

The three-day course reviews all applicable policies, practices and procedures necessary to implement a successful planetary protection programme. The course includes practical laboratory work and is taught by recognized experts in the field of planetary protection from NASA and ESA's Planetary Protection Working Group.

The course is designed for managers, engineers, scientists and instrument/hardware providers.


Dr Gerhard Kminek
Phone: +31 71 565 6096

Last Update: 1 September 2019
18-Jan-2022 14:24 UT

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