Wider application for space systems

Advances in space imaging and sampling technologies could soon improve products used in the defence and healthcare markets, according to Leicestershire-based engineering company Magna Parva.

Over the past few years, the company has been working alongside LeicesterUniversity on a number projects to improve technology on a Mars lander. One such system, the Life Marker Chip (LMC), is now being considered for a wider range of applications that could include use by forensic scientists and the armed forces.

The LMC works using biotechnology measurement techniques to detect specific molecules that could be associated with past and present life on the Red Planet. The system uses a ‘lock-and-key’ approach in which the receptor molecule only attracts target molecules of a particular shape.

Magna Parva’s contribution to the project involved the development of a vibrating inlet system that mixes the collected samples with a solvent to release target molecules that bind with antibody agents. These agents are labelled with fluorescent dye and, once paired with a molecule, they can be detected using a solid-state imaging detector.

To keep the payload of the Mars lander to a minimum, the team miniaturised all the components. In addition, it claims that the system can operate with very low power while maintaining extremely sterile conditions to protect the collected samples.

A spokesperson for Magna Parva said that the company is now looking to deploy the system in other remote area applications.

‘The system can be used for any application that needs to detect particles of biological origin,’ he said. ‘This could be for fast identification from small amounts of material in forensics or in the sampling of glacial ice.’

‘We are certainly getting a lot of interest for defence applications as a lot of instrumentation is highly precise and needs to works in remote situations. We haven’t commercialised the technology yet. However, it is something we will look to do in the near future.’

The company has been shortlisted for the ‘Innovation in Development’ category at the Lord Stafford awards for its work on the LMC, as well as its involvement in micro-channel plate X-ray optics for taking images on the distribution of elements on Mercury.

Ellie Zolfagharifard