Cranfield Given Cash In Search For Life On Mars

The university's been given 2 million pounds of funding to work on techology for a mission in 2018.

The funds will help continue the development of antibody analysis for the Life Marker Chip (LMC) instrument which is designed to detect traces of the molecules of life in the Martian environment. The LMC will be on the ExoMars rover to be launched to Mars in 2018 as part of a joint mission between the European Space Agency (ESA) and US space agency NASA.

The LMC concept, proposed by the universities of Leicester and Cranfield, and now being developed by an international consortium, including both universities and Imperial College London, has been built around advanced medical technology normally used to detect various medical conditions including the presence of disease and infection – the most common everyday example are the pregnancy test kits widely available in the high-street. The LMC is designed to detect trace-levels of molecules – biomarkers of life – in liquid extracts from samples of Martian rock and soil and all performed whilst operating under the extreme environment of the Martian surface.

Professor David Cullen of Cranfield Health, who is leading Cranfield University's involvement, said: "Cranfield is over the moon to be involved in such an exciting project that would change the way we view humankind's place in the Universe if we find evidence of life on Mars. The whole Cranfield team is excited by the various technical challenges that lead up to launch in 2018."

The UK is leading the development of two of the nine instruments being flown on the ExoMars rover (the Life Marker Chip and the Panoramic Camera) and has a major involvement in two other instruments (the Raman Laser Spectrometer and the X-Ray diffactometer). The LMC, Panoramic Camera, Raman Laser Spectrometer and the X-Ray diffactometer all benefited from the UK Space Agency's £10.5 million pot announced last week.

David Willetts, Universities and Science Minister, said: "The UK's world-leading technology will play a major role in this international ExoMars project. Our scientists will expand our knowledge of the red planet and help generate applications for these technologies here at home to benefit society and the economy. It's exciting to see UK engineers working on the most ambitious Mars mission ever attempted."