Saturday, June 6, 2009

ESA demonstrates lunar life support system

Spanish Minister for Science and Innovation Cristina Garmendia, inaugurates the European Space Agency's "Melissa" autonomous life support system, for the Moon and "beyond" - University Autònoma of Barcelona (UAB)

A pilot plant inaugurated yesterday in Barcelona, Spain, is testing regenerative life support system technologies that could one day recycle waste products and supply essential food, water and oxygen to humans living on the surface of the Moon or Mars.

MELiSSA, short for Micro-Ecological Life Support System Alternative, is an artificial ecosystem to recover food, water and oxygen from waste (faeces and urine), carbon dioxide and minerals. The laboratory will help in the development of technology for a future regenerative life support system for long-duration human space exploration missions, for example to a lunar base or to Mars.

The second generation MELiSSA pilot plant is located within the School of Engineering at the University Autònoma of Barcelona (UAB), Spain. The MELiSSA project is partially funded by ESA through the Directorate of Human Spaceflight and the Directorate of Technical and Quality Management. The facility was inaugurated yesterday by the Spanish Minister for Science and Innovation Cristina Garmendia, ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain and UAB Rector Ana Ripoll.

"The MELiSSA plant provides a world class research facility combining the expertise of many European countries, as well as Canada," said Dordain. "The validation of MELiSSA's highly regenerative life support processes is a mandatory step towards future long-duration human space exploration missions."

The pilot plant at UAB demonstrates the associated technologies with a 'crew' of 40 rats – together their oxygen consumption is equivalent to one person. This demonstration will last for more than two years – this length of time is considered representative of human space exploration missions. The rats will be kept under close veterinary supervision throughout.

MELiSSA goes further than other recycling systems used on Mir or the International Space Station that purify water and recycle urine and exhaled carbon dioxide, but do not attempt to recycle organic waste for food production.

Based on the principle of an aquatic ecosystem, the facility consists of five interconnected compartments. In three of them, waste is progressively broken down by fermentation processes. In the fourth compartment, algae or plants are grown to produce food, oxygen and water. The fifth compartment is where the crew lives – rats in the case of this experiment and on real missions – the astronauts.

Read the ESA report HERE.

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