European Space Agency Sample Analogue Curation Facility

I recently visited the European Space Agency (ESA) at the Harwell campus in Oxfordshire with Katherine Joy, Romain Tartèse, and fellow PhD student Gunter Just. Harwell is the site of the European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications (ECSAT), ESA’s newest facility and its first in the UK.

One of the purposes of our visit was to see the ESA Sample Analogue Curation Facility (SACF) which Dayl Martin (who recently completed his PhD at the University of Manchester) has been working on. Dayl gave us a tour of the facility which currently houses the ESA’s analogue collection, as well as an envious amount of instruments which will be used to analyse their samples.

Dr Romain Tartèse holding two bags of simulant material at the European Space Agency’s Sample Analogue Curation Facility. Photograph taken by Dr Katherine Joy.

The purpose of the SACF is to provide simulants for scientific experiments and technology developments; simulants are artificially created samples that imitate the properties of extra-terrestrial samples. This is particularly important for experiments involving samples that we don’t currently have access to (e.g. Mars soil) and experiments which would damage or destroy the precious extra-terrestrial samples (e.g. meteorites and lunar soil). Once the facility is up and running (early 2019), they will be able to supply samples to engineers and scientists so that they can develop techniques, technologies, and equipment which may be useful for future ESA missions and sample analysis.

During the rest of our visit, we were lucky enough to be given a tour of RAL Space as well as visiting the ISIS neutron beamline and the cold atom lab.

I’d like to finish by saying a big thank you from all of us to Dayl Martin and Chris Howe for showing us around the Harwell campus and to Tristan Valenzuela for talking to us about the work being done at the cold atom lab.

About Kathryn McCanaan

I am a first year PhD student at the University of Manchester in the Isotope Geochemistry and Cosmochemistry group. My project is called "Exploring the Lunar Regolith at the microscale".
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