Technology and Innovation of Modular Equipment in Scalable Advanced Life Support Systems for Space Exploration

COLOURBOX_mars.jpegFunded by EU's Research and Innovation program Horizon 2020, the project TIME SCALE will perform research, development and testing of future technologies for human life support systems, which will support long duration journeys and exploration in space. The project involves eight consortium partners from six European countries and will be conducted over three years during the period 2015-2018.

So far, humans have performed short duration journeys to the Moon and astronauts have been living onboard the International Space Station (ISS) in low Earth orbit (LEO) since the year 2000. The astronauts are totally dependent on regular supplies of the basic needs such as oxygen, water and food, sent up from Earth to live in space. Each day, crew members require around 30 kg (66 pounds) of water, food and air; over time, this accumulates to a huge amount of cargo.

If it were possible to grow plants on the ISS, the astronauts would have a supply of fresh food and air, which would reduce the burden of shuttling provisions to them. TIME SCALE aims to investigate how food crops grow in space, and whether they could realistically contribute a meaningful, long-term supply COLOURBOX tomatoe.jpgof food and oxygen to space travelers. Ultimately, this work could lay the foundations for investigating the feasibility of cultivating crops on the Moon and Mars in the future.

Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Space (CIRiS), part of NTNU Social Research in Trondheim, Norway, in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA), has been performing plant experiments onboard the ISS since 2006. The research has focused on the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, aiming to understand plant biology in microgravity conditions. These experiments have been carried out in the European Modular Cultivation System (EMCS), a small greenhouse operated remotely from ground.

TIME SCALE will be the foundation for a new generation of experiments on food plants (crops), algae bioreactors and mice in the EMCS. The project will gain scientific knowledge on health and growth conditions for food plants (crops) in space as well as on Earth. This knowledge will benefit innovations of life supports systems in space as well as on agriculture on Earth. 

Ultimately, the dream is to be able to have a closed regenerative life support system where water, nutrients, air and waste are recycled in a viable ecosystem. The idea is that astronauts would eat food grown in space, and the resulting waste would be turned into fertilizer for the plants, which will in turn create oxygen and more food.

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