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Space-enabled mobile bio-lab to test key workers for Covid-19

The system relies on space-enabled features including satellite communications, Earth observation data and geo-positioning data delivered via satellite to analyse samples.

A transportable diagnostics laboratory, developed at the University of Louvain in Belgium with the European Space Agency’s support is now being deployed in Italy to help with the fight against the coronavirus.

Jean-Luc Gala, Director of the Centre for Applied Molecular Technologies at the University of Louvain (UCLouvain), who leads the team overseeing the deployment is operating the deployable laboratory in Piedmont.

Called B-LiFE, short for “a biological light fieldable laboratory for emergencies”, the system comprises easy-to-set-up tents both for the laboratory and command and control parts; specialised equipment to rapidly analyse samples; a laboratory information and management system to safely collect and store all the results produced in real-time; and dedicated satellite antennas for reliable and secure communication between local staff and remote medical care centres.

It relies on several space-enabled features including satellite communications, Earth observation data and geo-positioning data delivered via satellite.

Together these allow the real-time transmission of analytical results, bidirectional communication with remote experts, broadband links for transferring large datasets through an autonomous telecommunication system, and geolocation of cases enabling real-time epidemiological mapping.

“During the Ebola crisis, real-time telecommunications were crucial to providing the information which could be given by specialist experts. Satellite communications are vital as telecommunications networks can rapidly become saturated in some circumstances and we need our own autonomous system,” commented Roland Gueubel of UCLouvain.

“B-LiFE was designed many years ago for epidemics. I must congratulate ESA for its vision and support.”

Arnaud Runge, a medical engineer overseeing the mission at ESA, added: “What sets B-LiFE apart from other existing laboratories is that it utilises multiple space assets. This significantly improves the workflow and effectiveness of the laboratory. ESA has been very active with a number of relevant initiatives to support the fight against the COVID-19, and the deployment of B-LiFE is one of them”

B-LiFE is certified under the EU’s civil protection mechanism, which aims to enable national authorities to exchange information to identify best practice and work interchangeably when disaster strikes.