UK to develop facility for testing extra-terrestrial samples 

Oxfordshire looks set to become home to Europe’s first facility for analyzing and testing alien samples.

The new facility, funded by the UK Space Agency, will be built by specialists from the UK’s national space laboratory RAL Space, which is part of the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL). The site is already home to leading scientific facilities, including the Diamond light sourceand the ISIS Neutron and Muon Source.

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Meteorite samples from Mars are being tested at the ISIS Neutron and Muon Source. Credit: STFC ISIS Neutron and Muon Source.

At least eight missions are planned to return samples from asteroids and Mars over the next decade, and it is hoped that the proposed alien sample caution and analysis facility will be ready to examine these samples when they arrive on Earth.

Emma Johnson, Principal Project Manager at RAL Space said: “This facility should be fully operational by the time Mars samples are returned to Earth in 2031. This means we have an opportunity to work with the planetary science community to designing the best facility for assembling and analyzing these precious materials.This study allows us to move forward and work towards realizing this new facility.”

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NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are solidifying concepts for a Mars sample return mission Image: NASA/ESA/JPL-Caltech

Sample return missions are a turning point in planetary science, allowing scientists to look at material from beyond Earth in greater detail than ever before. Special facilities to receive the samples will allow scientists to make the most of these limited samples using technology and expertise that cannot be sent into space. Such an analysis will help us understand more about the formation and evolution of the solar system.

The original plan is to do an architectural study for a new 2,400 sqm facility before the facility is built in time to receive samples within the next ten years.

Abhishek Maheswari
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