The Dallol Depression in Ethiopia will be used for experiments during the Europlanet 2020 project.

Open University's Europlanet 2020 project blasts off

The Open University (OU) is leading the Europlanet 2020 Research Infrastructure, a €9.9 million European project to help space science institutions share facilities and expertise.

Supporting 34 institutions across 19 European countries, the Europlanet 2020 Research Infrastructure project aims to tackle key scientific and technological challenges in modern space science by providing open access to state-of-the-art research data, models and facilities.

One of these facilities is the OU Mars chamber, which can simulate the Red Planet's environmental conditions. Designed to allow fluids and soil that would normally be prohibited in similar chambers, it offers the opportunity for new experiments to be conducted.

The project will also be providing access to planetary analogue sites such as Ibn Battuta in Morocco and the Dallol Depression in Ethiopia, where researchers can test hardware for future space missions, as well as undertake geology and astrobiology experiments.

A particular focus of the project, which will run for four years, is fostering closer relationships between industry and academia.

“In this latest project, we have an ambitious programme of research, access and networking activities,” says Nigel Mason, Professor of Physics at The Open University and the project’s coordinator. “In particular, our focus will be on fostering a closer integration between industry and academia in planetary science, and supporting institutions and partners from countries in early stages of developing planetary research programmes.”

In addition to being the project lead, the OU has received a grant of €1.2million, which will allow it to foster joint projects between academics and industry during the life of the project. It will also host workshops to educate industry about what is possible with space technology. For example, OU academics have used expertise from space missions to create miniaturised labs to improve air quality for submariners, to test for prostate cancer and even to detect bed bugs.

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