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Concepts for Ocean Worlds Life Detection Technology

LIfE: Luminescence Imager for Exploration

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Project Introduction

LIfE: Luminescence Imager for Exploration
NASA Ames Research Center (ARC) will mature a microfluidic-based fluorescence imaging microscope for the detection and study of biomarkers and structural indicators of microbial life in icy world environments. The Luminescence Imager for Exploration (LIfE) instrument is a microfluidic platform designed for biostructure fluorescence imaging using deep-ultraviolet (DUV) and visible light excitation. LIfE heritage is derived from the Fluorescence Analysis for In-situ Research on Nanosatellites (FLAIR) imager developed at ARC for the the study of C. elegans in Low Earth Orbit. LIfE will leverage ARC nanosatellite fabrication capabilities including stringent sterility and cleanliness requirements as well as general microfluidic design, development, fabrication, integration, sterilization, and test approaches. Although the current TRL of FLAIR is 6, in the context of an integrated system for icy world exploration, the current TRL of LIfE is 3, driven by its lowest TRL subsystems. Under this COLDTech, LIfE will be matured to an end-to-end system with a project exit TRL of 5. LIfE will collect samples onto a sub-micron filter and analyze them using fluorescence imaging with sub-micron spatial resolutions enabling the detection and quantification of bacterium-sized structures. During analysis of the samples, LIfE will operate using two modes of fluorescence analysis: 1) Utilizing fluorescence stains specific to key structural biomarkers, i.e., typical membrane constituents such as fatty acids, phospholipid bilayers, and membrane proteins. 2) Using DUV and visible light-emitting diodes (LEDs) for the excitation of native luminescence in the samples. The inclusion of a DUV-excitation source will allow LIfE to operate without the use of stains which may not bind to the structural components of extraterrestrial life forms. LIfE directly addresses the goals of future NASA missions by providing life detection technology suitable for flyby, orbital, and landed missions and multiple payloads and payload implementations. LIfE directly addresses the COLDTech program through the development of a spacecraft-based instrument for surface and subsurface exploration of ocean worlds such as Europa and Enceladus. LIfE is directly applicable to the Europa lander mission concept as described in the COLDTech Announcement of Opportunity. LIfE addresses NASA Planetary Science Division’s strategic goals and objectives and is focused on the detection of extant life in the "Ocean Worlds" of the outer Solar System. More »

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