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An ESA roadmap for geobiology in space exploration

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Claire Rachel Cousins, Charles S Cockell


Geobiology, and in particular mineral-microbe interactions, has a significant role to play in current and future space exploration. This includes the search for biosignatures in extraterrestrial environments, and the human exploration of space. Microorganisms can be exploited to advance such exploration, such as through biomining, maintenance of life-support systems, and testing of life-detection instrumentation. In view of these potential applications, a European Space Agency (ESA) Topical Team “Geobiology in Space Exploration” was developed to explore these applications, and identify research avenues to be investigated to support this endeavour. Through community workshops, a roadmap was produced, with which to define future research directions via a set of 15 recommendations spanning three key areas: Science, Technology, and Community. These roadmap recommendations identify the need for research into: (1) New terrestrial space-analogue environments; (2) Community level microbial-mineral interactions; (3) Response of biofilms to the space environment; (4) Enzymatic and biochemical mineral interaction; (5) Technical refinement of instrumentation for space-based microbiology experiments, including precursor flight tests; (6) Integration of existing ground-based planetary simulation facilities; (7) Integration of fieldsite biogeography with laboratory- and field-based research; (8) Modification of existing planetary instruments for new geobiological investigations; (9) Development of in situ sample preparation techniques; (10) Miniaturisation of existing analytical methods, such as DNA sequencing technology; (11) New sensor technology to analyse chemical interaction in small volume samples; (12) Development of reusable Lunar and Near Earth Object experimental platforms; (13) Utility of Earth-based research to enable the realistic pursuit of extraterrestrial biosignatures; (14) Terrestrial benefits and technological spin-off from existing and future space-based geobiology investigations; and (15) New communication avenues between space agencies and terrestrial research organisations to enable this impact to be developed.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)286-295
JournalActa Astronautica
Early online date7 Nov 2015
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2016

    Research areas

  • Geobiology, Astrobiology, Space exploration, International Space Station

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