Multiple projects funded for Mars exploration research

Research Policy Office
Tuesday 12 July 2016

Dr Claire Cousins from the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (DEES) was recently awarded four research projects, totalling a value of £422K, funded by the UK Space Agency as part of their ongoing ‘Aurora’ programme and The Leverhulme Trust. All these projects relate to the exploration of Mars, spanning both fundamental research and technology development.

The 3.5 year UK Space Agency PhD Studentship “Chemolithotrophs on Mars: metabolic pathways and biosignatures” will explore the metabolisms and stable isotope fractionation patterns produced by microbial communities in Mars analogue environments, and will be co-supervised by Dr Aubrey Zerkle. This will help us understand what kind of evidence we might expect to be left by any microbial life that existed billions of years ago when Mars was a less hostile planet.

Complementing this studentship is a 3-year postdoctoral project that will explore the habitability of hydrothermal fluids on Mars, Europa and Enceladus (“Frozen but not forgotten: microbial habitability and preservation in planetary fluids”; The Leverhulme Trust). This project will combine natural mineral springs in the Canadian High Arctic and Iceland with experimental studies to investigate how microbial communities survive and are preserved in simulated planetary environments. Dr Gordon Osinksi from the University of Western Ontario who visited DEES during his sabbatical in April 2016 is a Co-Investigator on this project, along with Dr Mark Claire (DEES) and Prof Charles Cockell (University of Edinburgh).

Testing the ExoMars PanCam in Iceland in 2013

Finally, a 2-year proof-of-concept UK Space Agency project, led by Dr Matthew Gunn at Aberystwyth University, will develop a prototype instrument to conduct “Luminescence age dating for in situ environments” on Mars. Luminescence age dating is widely used in environmental sciences, but has yet to be used in the robotic exploration of Mars. Creating new instrument prototypes means they can be developed into more advanced instruments for missions to the Martian surface in the future.

Links to related research:

Selecting the geology filter wavelengths for the ExoMars Panoramic Camera Instrument, Cousins, C. R., et al., 2012, In: Planetary and Space Science.

Mars surface context cameras past, present, and future, Cousins, C. R., et al., 27 April 2016, In: Earth and Space Science.

Glaciovolcanic hydrothermal environments in Iceland and implications for their detection on Mars, Cousins, C. R., et al., Cousins, C. R., et al., 15 Apr 2013, In: Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research. 256, p. 61-77.

Volcano-Ice Interaction as a Microbial Habitat on Earth and Mars, Claire R. Cousins and Ian A. Crawford. Astrobiology. September 2011, 11(7): 695-710.

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