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Algae bioreactor could produce oxygen and food for astronauts in space

The International Space Station (ISS) is now equipped with a new device.  It is called an “algae bioreactor” which has the capacity to supply oxygen and food to astronauts.  This device will be used alongside another closed-loop life support systems. 

A very useful device

On board the International Space Station, there are many difficulties.  In particular, how to access water, oxygen and food which are three crucial elements needed to support human life.  However for missions to far off planets like Mars, it seems that using an effective closed-loop recycling system is essential.

As mentioned in a statement published on the 3rd May 2019, astronauts from the International Space Station are currently testing an algae bioreactor.  Created by the German Aerospace Center (DlR), this system aims to convert carbon dioxide into methane and drinkable water.  However the rest of the carbon dioxide will be consumed by the algae which will produce oxygen.  This algae bioreactor works alongside another closed-loop life support system.

With the first demonstration of the hybrid approach, we are right at the forefront when it comes to the future of life-support systems,” explained Oliver Angerer, the team leader for the Photobioreactor experiment at DLR.

The concept of the closed-loop algae bioreactor Credits: DLR

Technology in its infancy

If tests surrounding this new algae bioreactor prove to be conclusive, astronauts will be able to count on this sort of hybrid life support system for future space voyages to far off planets like Mars.  The system uses Chlorella vulgaris algae which has both remineralizing and elimination virtues. As well as producing oxygen, the algae also produces a nutritional biomass which is high in protein. Researchers estimate that this could represent up to a third of an astronaut’s diet. As a result less food supplies would be needed for the duration of the mission.

This technology is just starting to be tested in real conditions however there is hope that the concept will be successful.  This type of device would be a great help for future NASA missions to the Moon in 2024 and to Mars in 2033.

Sources : Space.comScienceAlertPresse Citron

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