To Create water and the food Mars-bound astronauts will need for their mission

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By Universe Today, Matt Williams

Credit: Karoliussen/HORIZON

Then we will need to produce solutions for maintaining the crews provided, if we intend to ship missions to deep-space places. However, for missions self-sufficiency is the game’s name.

This is the concept behind jobs including BIOWYSE and TIME SCALE, that are being developed by the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Space (CIRiS) in Norway. These two systems are about providing astronauts with a renewable and sustainable source of drinking water and plant food. In so doing, they address two of the requirements of people performing long-duration missions that will take them.
Though the ISS could be resupplied in no more than six hours (time between the time a distribution capsule will dock with the station), astronauts still rely on conservation steps while in orbit. In fact, approximately 80 percent of the water aboard the ISS comes from shower water and urine, in addition to airborne water vapor generated perspiration and by breathing –all of that can be treated to make it safe for drinking.
Food is another matter. NASA estimates that each astronaut aboard the ISS will absorb 0.83 kg (1.83 pounds lbs) of food per meal, which works out to about 2.5 kg (5.5 pounds ) per day. Approximately 0.12 kg (0.27 pounds) of each meal is merely from the packaging material, which means one astronaut will create close to a pound of waste per day–and that is not even including the other kind of”waste” that comes out of eating.
In short, the ISS relies on expensive resupply missions to provide 20% of its water and all its food. But if and when outposts are established by astronauts on the moon and Mars, this might not be an option. While sending supplies to the moon could be done in three days, the requirement to do will make the cost of sending food and water restrictive. Meanwhile, it takes eight months for spacecraft to reach Mars, which is totally impractical.
So it is little wonder that the suggested mission architectures for the moon and Mars comprise in-situ resource utilization (ISRU), in which astronauts will utilize local resources to be self-sufficient as you can. Ice on the lunar and Martian surfaces, a prime instance, will be chosen to give drinking and irrigation water. But missions to places that are deep-space won’t have this choice while they are in transit.

To provide a sustainable source of water,” Dr. Emmanouil Detsis and colleagues are creating the Biocontamination Integrated cOntrol of Wet Systems for Space Exploration (BIOWYSE). This project began as an investigation for ways to keep freshwater for protracted periods of time, track it in real-time for signs of contamination, decontaminate it using UV light (rather than compounds ), and distribute it as necessary.

Artist’s impression of Biolab. A facility designed to encourage biological experiments on small plants micro-organisms and invertebrates. Credit: ESA – D. Ducros

What resulted was an automated machine that could perform each these tasks. As Dr. Detsis explained:”We wanted a method where you choose it from A to Z, from storing the water into making it available for a person to drink. That means you store the water, you have the ability to track the biocontamination, you are in a position to disinfect if you must, and eventually you deliver to the cup for drinking… When somebody wishes to drink water you press on the button. It is just like a water cooler”
Along with tracking water that is stored, the BIOWYSE system is capable of assessing surfaces that are wet within a spacecraft for signs of contamination. This can be vital, as a result of humidity buildup in closed systems such as space and spacecraft stations, which can cause water to accumulate. It then becomes essential to decontaminate of the water, once this water is recovered.
“The machine was created with prospective habitats in mind,” added Dr. Detsis. “So a space station around the skies, or a field laboratory on Mars in years to come. These are places where the water might have been sitting there some time before the team arrives.”

This system isn’t unlike the European Modular Cultivation System (EMCS) or the Biolab system, which were sent to the ISS in 2006 and 2018 (respectively) to conduct biological experiments in space. Drawing inspiration from these types of systems, Dr. Jost and her colleagues made a”greenhouse in space” that may cultivate plants and track their wellbeing. As she put it:”We (want ) state of the art technology to cultivate food for extended space exploration to the moon and Mars.

Credit: TPU

Similar to its predecessors, Biolab along with also the ECMS, the TIME SCALE model relies on a centrifuge and measures the effect this has on plants’ uptake of water and nutrients. This system could be useful here on Earth, enabling greenhouses to reuse water and nutrients and advanced sensor technology to monitor plant health and development.
When it is time to set up a human presence on the moon, on Mars, and for the interest of deep-space missions technologies such as these will be crucial. In the next several years, NASA plans to make the long-awaited return to the moon with Project Artemis, which will be the initial step in the creation of what they envision as a program for”sustainable lunar exploration.”
Much of the vision rests on the introduction of an orbital habitat (the Lunar Gateway) and the infrastructure around the surface (the Artemis Base Camp) had to encourage an enduring human presence. Similarly, when NASA starts making crewed missions to Mars, the mission architecture involves an orbital habitat (the Mars Base Camp), probably followed by one in the surface.
In all scenarios, since missions will not have the ability to achieve them in a matter of 27, the outposts will need to be relatively self-sufficient. Dr. Detsis explained,”It won’t be similar to the ISS. You are not likely to have all of the time to a crew. There’ll be a period at which the laboratory might be vacant, and will not have team until the next shift arrives in three or four months (or longer). Water and other sources will be sitting , and it might build up microorganisms.”
Technologies that will ensure that drinking water is clean, safe, and in constant supply–and that crops could be grown in a sustainable way–will allow deep-space missions and outposts to achieve a degree of self-sufficiency and become less reliant on Earth.