Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Serious Sustainability - From “Biosphere” to Luna Gaia

Space living: The Luna Gaia design would reduce the need for costly supply missions to ferry food, air and water backwards and forwards from colonies on the Moon and Mars. Image Credit: NASA

Serious Sustainability - From “Biosphere” to Luna Gaia

One of the largest problems of living outside of this Oblate Spheroid is the sustainability of human life with air, water, and an adequate food source.

Early efforts to create closed capsule-like living environments, like “Biosphere 2” in the Arizona desert, ended up looking more like an attempt at performance art than an effort focused on serious sustainability.

The best efforts at sustainability have only been able to be successful for a short time where as a team led by Australian scientists feel they have come up with a design of habitat that will be able to be 90% to 95% self-sufficient.

Luna Gaia is the latest of these efforts and it has come to light recently in a talk detailing the design at the Australian Space Science Conference held in Sydney last month.

This from Cosmos Online via SlashDot -

Self-sufficient space habitat designed
By Carolyn Barry, Cosmos Online - Tuesday, 9 October 2007

The development of such as system could save billions of dollars in shuttle trips to re-supply lunar or space colonies and brings closer the vision of a human habitat on Mars.
Luna Gaia

Some systems to recycle water and air have already been developed and rudimentary versions are presently used in the International Space Station (ISS). However, the proposed new lunar habitat "combines our existing knowledge" of physical, chemical and biological processes to provide an "overall picture of how a minibiosphere would work," said James Chartres aerospace engineer at the University of Adelaide in South Australia.
Biosphere 2, under the management of The University of Arizona, is one of the world's most unique facilities dedicated to the research and understanding of global scientific issues. In addition to its popular daily tours of Biosphere 2, The University of Arizona has established two additional scientific entities, B2 Earthscience and B2 Institute, dedicated to achieving a range of research, education, and outreach goals. Image Credit: University of Arizona

The project is in some ways similar to the failed Biosphere 2 experiment, built in Arizona, U.S., in the late 1980s. Over an area of 12,000 m2, Biosphere housed a closed ecological system, incorporating a mini 'ocean' with coral reefs, as well as a grassland, desert, mangrove, rainforest and agricultural areas. Eight people survived in the habitat for two years, but a lack of food and low levels of oxygen hampered the experiment. Chartres detailed plans for a smaller, space-bound concept, dubbed Luna Gaia.

Devised by an international team of 30 space scientists, Luna Gaia would be a 'closed-loop' environment, meaning that almost all material within the system is recycled with very little need for input from outside sources. The current design caters for a team of 12 astronauts under isolation for up to three years.
The Luna Gaia concept integrates technologies such as the Closed Equilibrated Biological Aquatic System (CEBAS), an enclosed aquarium designed by the German Aerospace Centre and the Micro-Ecological Life Support System Alternative (MELIiSSA) developed by the European Space Agency. MELIiSSA uses microbes to purify water, recycle carbon dioxide and derive edible material from waste products.

Algae – which generates oxygen from carbon dioxide via photosynthesis, and doesn't require pollinating – is the key to the proposed design.

The food required for astronauts would come from a mixture of tending small crops and from pre-packed supplies. Such crops would include peanuts, lettuce, tomatoes, carrots and wheat. In addition, certain types of algae, such as Spirulina or Chlorella would provide other vitamins, minerals and trace elements.

The diet would be largely vegetarian, said Chartres, but protein could potentially come from small-scale farming of fast-growing fish such tilapia.

A lunar base is unlikely to ever be 100 per cent self-sufficient, said Chartres, because no atmosphere is completely safe from leaks and it could not provide humans with all the nutrients that they need to survive.

Moreover, astronauts need the occasional break to the routine of standard food, so the odd "luxury item such as fruit salad, spices or chocolate," would ward off any doldrums, he said.

Significant hurdles

Pathogens introduced to the system by plants, as well as difficulties of pollination for crops still pose significant hurdles to the design. In addition, as much as 20 m2 of plants would be required to feed a single astronaut.

The proposed system, is unlikely to be up and running any time soon. Chartres estimates it will be another 20 to 30 years before the funding for the set-up and the practicality of providing the space for plant growth in a spacecraft is realised.
"This is an issue that is not only important for future long duration human space missions, but for humans on Earth as well," said [Mark Kliss, a bioengineer with the NASA Space Biosciences Division in Moffett Field, California].
Reference Here>>

And this, one of the comments posted below the article in Cosmos Online proposed the following:

Tilapia? How about a can of Worms?

Ok, leave your cultural biases at the door if you mainly live in Europe or the USA, are they at the door? Ok then...

The article mentions that the astronauts could grow tilapia as a protein source?!?

Oh wait, they could also grow some cows, I hear those are really efficient...Microlivestock (INSECTS) is a much better choice as a protein source for astronauts, as well as vitamins, minerals and fiber (chitin).

Because people don't eat insects as food in SOME parts of the world, doesn't mean they are not a healthy, delicious, and in this case efficient part of the human diet. Some insects have much better feed efficiencies than larger animals, and some (not all) can be grown in much closer proximity than larger animals. AND as a bonus, if we humans seize to exist on earth, and then supplies stop coming to the moon, them cockroaches will also outlast us in the moon and mars as well...

This comment is meant to be taken seriously, and before someone replies ignorantly or emotionally to it research about the subject...if your current society doesn't eat insects, it's neither good or bad, but it is your context, if you are grossed out try to view it from outside your current context.

Submitted by InsectMan on 10 October 2007 - 8:19am.

Finally, this excerpted and updated comment about the article from Luna Gaia project leader, James Chartres aerospace engineer at the University of Adelaide in South Australia -

Re: Self-sufficient space habitat designed

The actual study was done within a team of 32 professionals from 12 different countries and was not Australian led as we worked as a cohesive a team. The life support system design team consisted of 9 people from 6 different countries including Australia, Canada, China, Japan, Spain and the United Kingdom.

One of the aims of the research was to develop a life support system that would reduce the amount of required resupply. As mentioned in the article things like leakage, luxury items and spare parts prohibit the system from being completely self sufficient or closed loop. The research was intended to provide recommendations for future avenues of research and identify where current gaps are.

The reason for the large lead-time is that such a biological system on such a massive scale would take a long time to research and understand. Additionally, the construction and development of such a large system would take a long period of time due to the heavy lift capabilities required to get that much mass to the moon. Understanding such a complex system including the mass balance and where storage buffers would be required would need significant research and there are many issues to overcome. Studies have shown that the use of bio-regenerative methods only become feasible if mission durations exceed 2.5 to 3 years depending on the size of the crew. The 20 to 30 years is an estimate and like most research could change dramatically given the required resources and personnel.

We also actually looked at the possibility of including insects as a food source. There have been some published studies in Japan about the use of insect and as a source of protein they are another possible option that was considered and further research was recommended.

I recently spent 3 months in China interacting with students and also CASC the Chinese Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation. I would argue from my experience in China that the Chinese do not view space as a plaything and there is a tremendous amount of national pride for their space program. This is demonstrated in such things as astronaut images on bottle of water and the large amount of news coverage it receives on the CCTV stations.

Submitted by James Chartres on 10 October 2007 - 12:56pm.

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