The European Space Agency (ESA) recently chose the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) as a developer of novel nontoxic and antimicrobial surface treatments for the interior of spacecraft in order to ensure the safety of future human space missions.
On 4 March 2019, LIST’s materials department officially launched its 18-month research project “ESA NBactspace”. As a pioneer within the scientific community, LIST will develop novel nontoxic coatings with antimicrobial broad spectrum activity for the interior of spacecraft.
The surface treatments used on spacecraft interiors recently proved to have a long-term toxicity risk due to their composition based on heavy metal particles, such as silver and copper. In parallel, a growing number of pathogen strains have shown resistance to antibiotics. At a time of increasing human space missions, safety against such toxicity is considered a high priority.
With proven experience and expertise in surface treatment, microbiology and cytotoxicity, LIST’s materials department's mission is thus to develop novel and viable heavy metal-free antimicrobial coatings, offering the same efficiency in the space environment as current surface treatments. To do so, the silver and copper elements of antimicrobial solutions will be replaced by nontoxic bio-sourced materials, such as active molecules extracted from plants or lignin-based materials and antimicrobial peptides found in bacteria. The objective is to have either no particles released into the environment or only release a low concentration of nontoxic biodegradable or bio-compatible particles. This challenging research will generate unprecedented approaches in terms of the processing of space-friendly and durable antimicrobial coatings.
Different mechanisms can be used in surface treatments to protect a material from pathogens. The ambition of LIST is to build a new and efficient combination of all these mechanisms, while using bio-sourced and/or novel bio-compatible synthetic materials.
Through its approach as well as its methods, LIST aims to significantly contribute to better knowledge and a clearer definition of the standards to follow in confined environments. Moreover, this applied research may have an important socio-economic impact, besides developing a sustainable and viable alternative to heavy metal-based surface coatings. Indeed, the resulting technology is envisaged to be transferable to other environments, for instance the hospital setting.