Living clouds

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In September 2020 CanSat reopened their application. CanSat is a student design-build-launch satellite competition. On the national level, it is supervised by the Copernicus Science Centre whilst on the international level – the European Space Agency.

This year a new team “Air Thief” enrolled into the competition with a goal of building a revolutionising satellite able to collect air samples. Air Thief Team is the official representative of the Akademeia High School in Warsaw, Poland. AHS is one of the best British schools in Poland and, it’s high scores on the A-levels exams confirm that. 

Akademeia is not only an expert in natural sciences and engineering but it is also a prodigy in arts and humanities. The representative team of AHS consists of 5 diligent students taking further mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, geography and economics as their primary A-levels.

The teams’ mission is based on a sample-return idea. The satellite was designed in a way that allows for rapid collection of biological samples from a designated altitude and leaves no room for external contamination of the collecting chamber. The idea is an answer to the recently published studies on phosphine gas in the cloud decks of Venus and liquid water being found on the surface of Mars. The satellites main body are two cylinders, one, S-chamber, is the actual collecting site, whilst the second one, E-chamber, serves as additional support of the system, protects from any mechanical threats and external biocontamination.

The chambers are equipped with four layers of filters: double Hepa 12 on the output of the airway and double F7 on the inlet of the S and E chambers. Hepa 12 filter is a high-efficiency filter that allows microbes not bigger than 10 µm to pass through it. The double Hepa 12 layer will serve as a barrier from the exterior of the satellite to prevent any unwanted contamination. The other two F7 filters allow microbes in the range of 0.1-10 micrometres to pass through it.  The F7 filters will also minimize chemical contamination that could affect the permeability of the innermost filters.

As the airway is tightly packed with numerous filters it is necessary to promote a certain airflow. To do that a pumping system will be used. An air pump will push large amounts of air through the system only at the designated height. The airflow will be fully restricted, as the satellite approaches the lower boundary of it’s encoded altitudes.

After landing, the collected samples will be transported inside both S and E chambers into a sterile glovebox prepared prior to launching the satellite.  Collected microorganisms will be transported onto agar plates in a fully sterile environment, and will be left to grow for a certain amount of time at around 30 ℃. Samples prepared in such a way will be transported to the laboratory to perform quantitative and qualitative analysis using flow cytometry –  a technique used to detect and measure physical and chemical characteristics of a population of cells or particles.

The educational value of the project is extremely important, therefore the team has decided to use an open-source platform. How will the results of this mission affect the modernization of medicine? Could life be found on other celestial bodies using the Air Thief satellite as a technology demonstrator?

For more information about the project visit: www.airthief.net 

You can also get in touch with the team via email: air.thief.cansat@gmail.com 

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