Life Support Systems for Space‬

The moment is approaching when mankind will be able to permanently colonize extraterrestrial bodies (Moon, Mars, …). Getting there is one thing, surviving and thriving in outer space is another challenge. For deep space missions and space habitation, one will not be able to rely on terrestrial resupply of water and food anymore. As a result, we need to develop and engineer so-called Life Support Systems (LSS) that allow a (near) complete material recovery. In such closed material cycles, all waste streams are continuously converted into building blocks to produce food over and over again. Ghent University is a core partner in the MELiSSA (Micro Ecological Life Support System Alternative) program, the bioregenerative Life Support System program of the European Space Agency (ESA).

At CMET, we focus on microbial and physicochemical waste treatment technologies that enable the recovery of water, nutrients and CO2 from human waste and crop residues. In this context, the treatment of urine and fibrous residues are pivotal in closing the nitrogen and carbon balance respectively. Since food production needs to be efficient in terms of space, crew time, energy consumption and nutrient utilization, the production of microbial food (‘single cell protein’) is of specific interest for bioregenerative Life Support Systems. In the end, these closed habitat technologies are not intended for future space habitation alone, but also for terrestrial applications where circular, decentralized and sustainable solutions are wanted.