First ISU/UniStra/Eurometropolis of Strasbourg Experiment in Space


On 19 February 2017, a Space X Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Kennedy Space Center’s historical launch pad 39A, bringing MMARS1 to space and on its way to the International Space Station.

The experiment takes its origin in the traces of methane found on Mars. One hypothesis is that this methane could have a biological origin, such as from terrestrial methane-producing micro-organisms.

As a first step, it is therefore important to know if such micro-organisms can survive under the stress of space conditions, implying mainly reduced gravity and cosmic radiation. The MMARS1 (Microbial Methane Associated Research Strasbourg 1) experiment was designed to address this question. The required container and methane sensors were developed under ISU’s responsibility, with the help of Master thesis students (see picture below), and the support of Airbus Defence & Space engineers.

MMARS1 2Methane-producing micro-organisms could represent a crucial asset for future space missions, including for example for biomining, in terms of fuel production.

Another important feature of the MMARS1 experiment is its unique cooperation model, which combines ISU knowledge of the space environment, know-how on methane-producing micro-organisms in the group of Pr. S. Vuilleumier at University of Strasbourg (laboratory GMGM, UNISTRA-CNRS), technical expertise of Airbus Defence and Space, Friedrichshafen, and the financial support of the Eurometropolis of Strasbourg, and hence represents a genuine Public-Private-Partnership (PPP).

Dr. N. Matt, Vice-President of Higher Education of the Eurometropolis of Strasbourg and Associate Professor at UNISTRA, stated: "This experiment, besides its scientific importance, is an important milestone in the cooperation between both Universities in Strasbourg, clearly showing the synergy between the capabilities of both".

Prof. Favier, Research Programs Director at ISU confirmed this statement: “This particular Space experiment, the first of its kind, clearly shows the importance and capability of our University to contribute to top level research programs. This PPP also allowed to develop and launch a complex experiment within a smart and cost effective framework.”

MMARS2, a follow-up of the experiment, is already being planned and demonstrates the strong motivation of ISU in terms of research and cooperation with the scientific community at University of Strasbourg.

An event open to the general public retracing the first steps of this experiment will be webcast live from ISU on March 7, 2017, via http://www.isunet.edu/pages/video-webcast/isu-live-channel/107.

Photo montage designed by Alec Bartos ISU MSS16 - Images courtesy of NASA, ESA, and SpaceX