Planetary protection is an agreed international practice that is defined by the United Nations, promulgated by the Committee on Space Research, and practiced by space-faring agencies such as NASA, the European Space Agency, Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, and others.
Below are summaries of the policies and activities of a few of these organizations.
The United Nation’s Office of Outer Space Affairs is responsible for promoting international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space (UNOOSA). UNOOSA serves as the secretariat for the UN General Assembly’s only committee dealing exclusively with international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space: the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS). In respect to planetary protection, Article IX of the 1967 United Nations Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Bodies states that all countries party to the treaty “shall pursue studies of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, and conduct exploration of them so as to avoid their harmful contamination”.
Committee on Space Research (COSPAR)
Internationally, technical aspects of planetary protection are developed through deliberations by COSPAR, part of the International Council of Science (ICSU), which consults with the United Nations in this area. The COSPAR Panel on Planetary Protection develops and makes recommendations on planetary protection policy to COSPAR, which may adopt them as part of the official COSPAR Planetary Protection Policy.
The planetary protection policy of NASA is consistent with Article IX of the ‘Outer Space Treaty’, and is well aligned with the requirements defined by COSPAR. Compliance with planetary protection for NASA missions is described in the “NASA Policy Directive (NPD) 8020.7: Biological Contamination Control for Outbound and Inbound Planetary Spacecraft. In turn, the requirements and steps needed to attain compliance are explained in the NASA Procedural Requirements (NPR) 8020.12: Planetary Protection Provisions for Robotic Extraterrestrial Missions.
European Space Agency (ESA)
ESA is committed to the responsible exploration of the solar system, and works closely with NASA in the practice and development of planetary protection policy. The Planetary Protection Officer for ESA is Dr. Gerhard Kminek. The ESA planetary protection related documents include:
- ESSB-ST-U-001 (Issue 1): ESA planetary protection requirements
- ECSS-Q-ST-70-53C: Material and hardware compatibility tests for sterilization processes
- ECSS-Q-ST-70-55C: Microbial examination of flight hardware and cleanrooms
- ECSS-Q-ST-70-56C: Vapour phase bioburden reduction for flight hardware
- ECSS-Q-ST-70-57C: Dry heat bioburden reduction for flight hardware
- ECSS-Q-ST-70-58C: Bioburden control of cleanrooms