Honeyman helps prevent contamination on robot mission to Mars

Published: 3-Feb-2020

Charlotte Stow of Honeyman Group on the role of aseptic techniques training in the space exploration industry

Honeyman Group, the life sciences compliance company based in County Durham (UK), has for the last three decades provided high purity water systems, training and support for experts in pharmaceuticals, biotech and medicals. The team has also been helping space scientists avoid contamination, through specialist training in sterilisation.

Those working on missions headed for Mars need to be trained in aseptic techniques when handling instrumentation in accordance with requirements set out in the Planetary Protection Agreement, an international agreement established by the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) to prevent any impact space exploration may have on past or present life on extraterrestrial planets.

Alan Dawson who works for the European Space Agency, ESA, as a Life Support & Physical Sciences instrumentation (LIS) Facility Laboratory Manager has been a regular at Honeyman training programmes over the years, attending Advanced Sterilisation Validation, Cleanroom Principles in Practice and Microbiology for Non-Microbiologists, the latter being his favourite.

Dawson commented: "As a novice on cleanroom/sterility [the] courses were valuable to me, although they were pharmaceutical-based, I learned the basics of how a cleanroom functioned (AHU), design, qualification, handling, gowning, cross-contamination, sterilisation, procedure and great basic microbiology that was such fun."

Dawson also pointed out that the skills learned from completing Honeyman courses have indeed contributed to the ESA teaching curriculum they provide for industry partners on Planetary Protection.

Planetary Protection requirements

ESA provides Planetary Protection courses to the industry in relation to implementing Planetary Protection requirements on missions that land or have the risk to crash on any other world with a potential for impacting past or present life.

Most of the instrument developers in the space exploration industry are engineers and technicians, so it is important to instruct how instruments may be handled with respect to cleanliness and contamination.

Although the Planetary Protection course given by Gerhard Kminek from ESA goes into more depth on contamination levels and procedure for specific missions, the lessons and experience learned from Honeyman courses have been passed to engineers from industry across Europe when they use the ESA facility.

ESA's ultra-clean microbiology laboratory (pictured above) is part of the Agency's Life, Physical Sciences and Microgravity Laboratory, based in Noordwijk, the Netherlands.

The air on the other side of the glass is an ISO class 1 cleanroom, its rigorously filtered air containing at rest millions of times fewer particles than the outside atmosphere: fewer than a dozen particles larger than 0.1 micrometres, such as a speck of dust, per cubic metre of air.

This makes it suitable for Planetary Protection procedures, such as examining temperature sensors destined to end up on the surface of Mars aboard the ExoMars 2016 Schiaparelli lander.

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