Biospheres in Space

When we begin to migrate out into space, we will need to create self-sustaining “biospheres” to live in. Technically, the International Space Station is a biosphere, but we re-supply it from outside constantly instead of replenishing materials from within. Our first outposts beyond Earth orbit will be similarly dependent upon regular supplies brought in from outside. But as we migrate farther out, the re-supply process will become both more difficult and more expensive, so we’ll need to scale the level of self-sufficiency to match.

The most important need is oxygen and atmosphere for breathing. To a certain extent, this can be supplied by chemical scrubbing of CO2 that enables re-breathing the same air many times. But since breathing consumes oxygen, it is also necessary to replenish the oxygen. This too can be done by a chemical process extracting oxygen from water and CO2. Plants can aid the process and offer the possibility to absorb CO2, release oxygen and produce food at the same time. Growing algae in tanks may offer potential in this area.

Space Station life support

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After breathing air, drinking water becomes the next most important focus. Water can be reclaimed and recycled using processes similar to those used with air.

Both closed loop bio-sphere environments for air and water may need replenishment at time. Once our space habi-craft are far from Earth, the supply chain from Earth becomes expensive and supplies will be mined from asteroids. Water will become one of the most valuable and sought after substances because it can supply oxygen for breathing, water for drinking and growing plants and hydrogen for fuel cells, generators and propellant.

Food is probably the easiest life support substance to store but it also is more difficult to recycle without using plants. Human waste can be sanitized and broken down into nutrient forms to be used as plant food. Again, simple algae seems to offer the most promise and different forms of algae can provide different combinations of amino acids, proteins and mineral content.

SEE ALSO:
Life Support
Growing Food in Space
Stepping Stones to Space
Habitats

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