As part of the MELiSSA project (Micro-Ecological Life Support Alternative), the European Space Agency (ESA) has selected QinetiQ, partnered with CAPACITÉS, to demonstrate the efficacy of a process for cultivating and harvesting spirulina in zero-gravity conditions. This microalgae has the ability to recycle space-station waste by feeding on carbon and nitrogen, to produce food with high nutritional potential.
Launched in 1989, the MELiSSA project aspires to transform a spaceship into a closed ecosystem by recycling carbon dioxide and organic waste and transforming it into food, oxygen and water. For instance, supplying the International Space Station (ISS) with oxygen, water and food is indeed very costly and time-consuming. Long-haul space missions to the moon or Mars would require 30 tons of supplies; hence the need to develop a bioregenerative system.
Spirulina is extremely beneficial microalgae from a nutritional standpoint. Is recycles the water in which it grows and produces oxygen. Moreover, it grows up to 100 times faster than a terrestrial plant. It is the ideal candidate for a space mission.
The challenge is to succeed in cultivating and harvesting it in space, and therefore in zero gravity. With this aim, our microalgae bioprocesses engineers will soon attempt to validate an axenic process to continuously cultivate and harvest spirulina in a controlled photobioreactor developed by the laboratory GEPEA: HECTOR. QinetiQ and CAPACITÉS will study several types of filtration technology, with the goal of achieving microalgae filtration in the absence of gravity.
The project began in December 2020 and should last a little over one year.