The icy moon of the solar system signifies the most auspicious targets for astrobiological exploration. Direct access to the geyser vents of Enceladus would be highly desirable to acquire pristine biological samples. Over the past few decades irrespective of multiple orbital and lander mission still relatively not much is known about the microbial presence and the biological composition. We have investigated the possibility of deploying penetrators to Enceladus to target the geyser vents to gain access to pristine or near-pristine subsurface samples. Penetrators are small missile type entry descent and landing vehicles that can carry modest scientific instruments capable of withstanding impact into the subsurface. The instrumentation used for any biochemical analysis on astrobiological bodies such as Enceladus should perform experiments with extreme precision and sensitivity such that it does not contaminate the sample and at the same time depict the results with high throughput. We have examined a subset of instruments that might be deployed on a penetrator based on current work in developing an astrobiological suite of a robotic instrument for Mars Rover deployment comprising a micro-assay and a nanopore instrument that works on extreme environments. For the microfluidics, we have explored to minimize the sample pre-processing required for the instruments and tested the microfluidic system which could perform experimentations that might detect life from the environmental sample collected from the Mars analogue sites. Here we describe a fully automated microfluidic device capable of performing end-to-end analyses of DNA/RNA preparation and sequencing by using microbial activity micro-assay (µ-MAMA) and oxford nanopore instruments. The system integrates an array of solenoid valves, peristaltic pumps and membrane filters for autonomous fluidic routing through the channels. The use of such an integrated device dramatically reduces the analysis time, reagent consumption, costs and overall mass of the subsystem. This miniaturized and sophisticated astrobiological instrument suite offers high potential for astrobiological prospecting in a highly challenging environment including Europa.

Additional Metadata
Keywords Astrobiological exploration, Enceladus, Miniaturized automated microfluidic system, Pristine samples
Conference 70th International Astronautical Congress, IAC 2019
Citation
Sondhiya, S. (Shubhank), & Ellery, A. (2019). Direct astrobiological sampling of Enceladus' subsurface vents for the micro Life instrument suite. In Proceedings of the International Astronautical Congress, IAC.