US-based not-for-profit research organisation SETI Institute has secured a planetary protection support contract from Nasa.

As part of this contract, SETI will collaborate with Nasa’s Office of Planetary Protection (OPP) and support existing and future planetary protection missions’ phases.

It will provide technical reviews and recommendations, certify flight projects’ biological hygiene, and train Nasa and its partners.

The institute will also develop deployment guidelines for Nasa requirements and keep stakeholders and the public updated by providing information.

SETI Institute president and chief executive officer Bill Diamond said: “As we return to the Moon, look for evidence of past or present life on Mars and continue our missions of exploration and discovery in the solar system, planetary protection becomes an increasingly important component of mission planning and execution.

“We are proud to be Nasa’s partner for this mission-critical function, protecting Earth from backward contamination, and helping ensure that the life we may find on other worlds, didn’t come from our own.”

The OPP protects both Earth and mission destinations from biological contamination and encourages responsible solar system exploration.

SETI will support Nasa’s Mars 2020 and Europa Clipper missions and preparations for the space agency’s Mars Sample Return mission.

Nasa planetary protection officer Lisa Pratt said: “The depth of mission experience and breadth of knowledge on the SETI Institute team will help Nasa meet the technical challenges of assuring forward and backward planetary protection on the anticipated path of human exploration from the Moon to Mars.”

The five-year, fixed-price indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract is valued at $4.7m.