We have a new PhD opportunity open for applications:
Planetary Protection aims to ensure that scientific investigations of possible extra-terrestrial life forms, precursors, and remnants are not jeopardised (COSPAR 2020). This is reflected in the Committee on Space Research’s (COSPAR) Planetary Protection Policy, which offers international guidelines. The Policy is non-binding and evolves with our scientific understanding of terrestrial life and extra-terrestrial environments.
For Mars, a recent paper (Olsson-Francis, 2022) identified a series of knowledge gaps relating to the Policy. A key area is the feasibility of terrestrial contamination to survive and proliferate on Mars. This is prudent, as our understanding of water distribution on Mars is evolving rapidly.
Based on large-scale climate models, Mars is deemed to be dry and highly desiccating; however, indirect evidence suggests transient water exists in the equatorial regions of Mars. For example, humidity, air and ground temperatures suggest that brines can exist in the uppermost 5 cm of the subsurface (Martin-Torres et al., 2015). Moreover, some salts, such as sulfate, perchlorate and chloride, found within the martian regolith can form stable hydrated compounds and liquid solutions by absorbing atmospheric water vapour (Ramachandran et al., 2021).
To examine the feasibility of microbial contamination to survive and replicate on the surface of Mars, laboratory-controlled simulations are required to mimic the physicochemical environments. Using these simulation experiments, the studentship will investigate the ability of transient martian brines to support microorganisms isolated from cleanroom environments to survive and proliferate on the martian surface.
This work will contribute to ongoing international activities in planetary protection by developing our understanding of the habitability of Mars. This will be key for developing the planetary protection guidelines for future missions.
You will need to submit:
For more details visit the EEES website: OU12
Applications must be sent to STEM-EEES-PHD@open.ac.uk by 23:59 GMT on Wednesday 10th January 2024.
The STFC Industrial CASE (Cooperative Awards in Science and Technology) studentship provides a 3.5-year stipend that allows the student to spend periods of time on placement at Airbus DS in Stevenage, UK. The cumulative placement period will be no less than 9 months but this will be spread over the period of the studentship and will not normally exceed 18 months.
Protecting the space environment is a critical 21st century challenge to ensure the space sector remains environmentally sustainable and socially responsible. For those that manufacture space and satellite equipment, contamination resulting from surfaces, people and materials is a particular problem that is poorly understood but could have serious adverse impacts on extra-terrestrial environments.
Many materials used in the manufacture of spacecraft, particularly those used for bonding, are silicone-based. This is because they are easy to use, work well in a large range of temperatures, have good adhesion and are UV and ozone resistant. Certain silicones emit low levels of volatile gases. However, in the space environment, there are both thermal and vacuum effects that increase outgassing of certain compounds that can settle on sensitive equipment causing parts, such as lenses, to become contaminated and image quality to be reduced. If they are deposited on equipment that lands on a celestial body, this could contaminate other natural environments, including those that might be habitable.
This studentship builds on a successful Open University/Airbus DS STFC Impact Accelerator Account project (scheme can be found online) and will apply a novel approach to volatile analysis within space sector cleanrooms.
The aims of this studentship are:
Applications should include:
For more details visit the OU Vacancies Page
Applications should be sent to STEM-EEES-PHD@open.ac.uk by 12pm (noon) on 29th January 2024