Astro-geological sample preparation for field-based analytics and return prioritization (GeoPrep, 2023-2024)

Studying rocks helps us to understand the geological history of a planet. For example, volcanic rocks reveal information about a planet’s composition and how it evolved over time. Sedimentary rocks can tell if water was present during their formation and what composition the water had. Rocks may also store information about a planet’s atmosphere and whether there were any forms of life at some point of its history. When applied to Mars this concept of using a rock as an archive, in which information about its distant past is stored, helps us to better understand how and when Mars has formed and which processes shaped its interior and surface to this day.

The surface features of Mars as observed at present suggest a history of strong volcanic activity giving rise to the largest volcano known in our solar system and time periods in which the surface was at least partly covered with large bodies of water of a composition most likely similar to that of the Dead Sea. With liquid water being one of the key ingredients for the origin of life, Mars had, at least at some point in his history, the potential to host life and to allow it to thrive over many millions of years

The detailed analysis of rock samples usually requires sophisticated analytical equipment that is only available at large research facilities and requires operation by very well-trained and experienced experts. However, a transport of such equipment to Mars and a training of the astronauts, who also require a wide variety of different skills for a Mars mission, in these methods is certainly beyond the capabilities of the first Mars missions. The GeoPrep project, therefore, aims to develop a method that allows astronauts to prepare rock samples collected during a field mission for microscopic examination on Mars with a minimum of training and equipment. Our method will be tested during the Human-Robotic Mars Analog Mission Armenia 2024 (AMADEE 24) in collaboration with the Austrian Space Forum. (

If successfully implemented, our field protocol for preparation and optical microscopy of rock samples will help to identify minerals, their sizes and geometric relationships, and reveal chemical reactions that lead to their formation. These combined data will provide crucial information for choosing those rock samples best suited to be sent back to Earth.


Figure 1: Instrumental setup of the GeoPrep experiment devised for the preparation of rock samples for microscopic examination to be installed in a Martian field laboratory

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