ESA’s PExTex Project: Advancing Lunar Exploration with Innovative Textiles

In a groundbreaking endeavor, the European Space Agency (ESA) is spearheading the PExTex (Planetary Exploration Textiles) project, a collaborative effort aimed at revolutionizing spacesuit technology for lunar exploration. As astronauts prepare to venture onto the moon’s unforgiving surface, the project’s focus extends beyond external hazards to address a novel challenge – preventing the growth of harmful microbes within the suits themselves.

Led by France’s Compagnie Maritime d’Expertises (COMEX) and supported by the Austrian Space Forum’s BACTeRMA initiative, the PExTex project introduces cutting-edge materials like high-strength Twaron, which can endure an astonishing 2,500 hours of lunar surface use. These new materials are undergoing rigorous testing, including exposure to ultra-high vacuum conditions, temperature fluctuations, electrical discharges, and simulated moon dust abrasion.

A key aspect of the project is the innovative approach to microbial resistance. The BACTeRMA project, overseen by the Austrian Space Forum, seeks to safeguard astronauts from potential health risks arising from shared spacesuits. Unlike conventional antimicrobial materials that might cause skin irritation, the team is exploring the use of secondary metabolites – naturally occurring compounds with vibrant colors and antibiotic properties. These compounds, such as the violacein pigment and prodigiosin, are being examined for their effectiveness in preventing microbial growth on textile surfaces.

Collaborating with the Vienna Textile Lab, renowned for its bacteriographic collection, the BACTeRMA team has developed groundbreaking techniques. They dye cloth with bacterial metabolites and subject it to radiation, moon dust, and simulated perspiration to assess durability. This multidisciplinary effort not only enhances spacesuit technology but also holds promise for broader applications within the textile industry.

Gernot Gromer, Director of the Austrian Space Forum, highlights the far-reaching impact of these projects: “The findings of PExTex and BACTeRMA lay the foundation for future developments in antimicrobial treatments and smart textile technologies. Additionally, these projects could have broader implications for the textile industry, by demonstrating the feasibility and importance of developing innovative textiles with specialized properties.”

The culmination of this pioneering work is approaching as the Austrian Space Forum integrates the newly developed textiles into its spacesuit simulator. By March 2024, these materials are scheduled for their inaugural analog field test during the AMADEE-24 field campaign, simulating a crewed Mars mission in Armenia.

As humanity takes bold strides toward lunar and interplanetary exploration, the ESA’s PExTex project stands as a testament to the fusion of scientific innovation and textile engineering. By melding advanced materials with biological insights, this initiative promises not only safer lunar missions but also a potential revolution in textile capabilities that could reverberate far beyond the stars.


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