Consideration of Planetary Protection Issues in the Context of the M-WIP Study



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


47th International Conference on Environmental Systems


The Mars Water In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) Planning (M-WIP) Study was performed as a “first-order” analysis of questions about supply-side planning related to potential water resource deposits on Mars. Jointly requested by NASA-SMD and NASA-HEOMD in Jan. 2016, the study team reported that for every kg of total ISRU system mass delivered to Mars, a Lox/LCH4 ISRU system can produce 20 kg of propellant, whereas a Lox-only ISRU system (baseline) can produce 3 kg of propellant. The study team’s assessment and findings for four reference cases for generating LOX/CH4 from Martian water/ice resources were reported, however planetary protection issues were not considered in this exercise. In fact, planetary protection was specifically discounted from consideration, until an existence proof was developed for each reference case. This paper is a follow-on analysis to fold back in the planetary protection concerns for each of the reference cases addressed by the study team. Spacefaring nations have, since the earliest years of the space programs, committed to planetary protection, the protection of solar system objects from “harmful contamination” carried by interplanetary spacecraft. In this way, the scientific interrogation of extraterrestrial targets can proceed without being compromised by terrestrial biological contamination. At the first-order level, planetary protection implementation would appear simpler for extraction of water (as envisaged by the M-WIP team) from a regolith source than from an icy source. This is because of the lower risk of contamination of Martian environments and an easier path to generation and storage of a sterilized water resource. Details of the different parameters considered in reaching this view are presented in the paper.


J Andy Spry, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute (SETI), USA
ICES308: Advanced Technologies for In-Situ Resource Utilization
The 47th International Conference on Environmental Systems was held in South Carolina, USA on 16 July 2017 through 20 July 2017.


ISRU, Mars, Planetary Protection