Stoichiometric model of a fully closed bioregenerative life support system for autonomous long-duration space missions

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Abstract

Bioregenerative life support systems (BLSS) are vital for long-duration and remote space missions to increase mission sustainability. These systems break down human waste materials into nutrients and CO2 for plants and other edible organisms, which in turn provide food, fresh water, and oxygen for astronauts. The central idea is to create a materially closed loop, which can significantly reduce mission mass and volume by cutting down or even eliminating disposable waste. In most BLSS studies only a fraction of the resources, such as food, are provided by the system itself, with the rest taken on board at departure or provided through resupply missions. However, for autonomous long-duration space missions without any possibility of resupply, a BLSS that generates all resources with minimal or no material loss, is essential. The goal of this study is to develop a stoichiometric model of a conceptually fully closed BLSS that provides all the metabolic needs of the crew and organisms. The MELiSSA concept of the European Space Agency is used as reference system, consisting of five interconnected compartments, each inhabited by different types of organisms. A detailed review of publicly available MELiSSA literature from 1989 to 2022 revealed that no existing stoichiometric model met the study’s requirements. Therefore, a new stoichiometric model was developed to describe the cycling of the elements C, H, O, and N through all five MELiSSA compartments and one auxiliary compartment. A compact set of chemical equations with fixed coefficients was established for this purpose. A spreadsheet model simulates the flow of all relevant compounds for a crew of six. By balancing the dimensions of the different compartments, a high degree of closure is attained at steady state, with 12 out of 14 compounds exhibiting zero loss, and oxygen and CO2 displaying only minor losses between iterations. This is the first stoichiometric model of a MELiSSA-inspired BLSS that describes a continuous provision of 100% of the food and oxygen needs of the crew. The stoichiometry serves as the foundation of an agent-based model of the MELiSSA loop, as part of the Evolving Asteroid Starships (E|A|S) research project.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1198689
JournalFrontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences
Volume10
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2023

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