Live outside the earth

    Hello! This is Alexander Shaenko, I led the project “Lighthouse” . My colleagues and I built and launched the first satellite in the history of Russia created by crowdfunding. As it suddenly turned out, he had a successor or something like that :) I’m talking about Humanity Star , launched into orbit in the first successful launch of Rocket Labs Electron launch vehicle on January 21, 2018.

    But today it will not be about them. I would like to talk about the project to create a biological life support system that we took up after the Mayak, and why it was for her.

    The idea of ​​the “Lighthouse”

    I already wrote that the idea of ​​the Mayak satellite was to show that now in Russia, the most ordinary people, like reading this article% Username%, can create and launch their own spacecraft into space. That you can do space activities personally, with your own hands, without working in large design bureaus, without being a millionaire, now in Russia. That you can not only subscribe to NASA or Roscosmos instagrams or watch popular science lectures, but do your own space projects.

    While still working on the Mayak, we thought about what our next project would be and decided that it should contribute to the space program and contribute to going beyond the limits of the Earth’s orbit.

    Well, we want to contribute, but which one and where? And here there are many options.

    Contribution, what and where

    Personally, in my opinion, the last big deal in manned space exploration was done in 1969, when the first Apollo expedition landed on the moon. After it there were five more successful flights, but after them, already since 1972, not a single person rose above 1000 km above the Earth. Not one, although 45 years have passed already! All cosmonautics, I recall, is only 60 years old! And most of this time people are marking a patch around the Earth!

    It seems to me that this is not very cool, and something needs to be done with this. The experience of “Selenohod” and especially “Moon-Globe” aka “Moon-25” taught that it is better to work yourself.

    But what do you actually need in order to fly beyond the low Earth orbit?

    If we talk about the distant future, not just about flights to the Moon or Mars, for which approximately the existing technological level is enough, then we need:

    • New, more capacious and lighter sources of energy, from better chemical at the first stage, to nuclear, thermonuclear and annihilation at the next.
    • New engines and methods of movement, both when entering space from celestial bodies, and for moving in a vacuum. New energy sources will find application for powering jet engines, electromagnetic accelerators and directional radiation sources to create traction in solar, laser, magnetic and other types of sails.
    • New types of materials that can work in harsh space conditions, suitable for efficient processing into products, which in this case will be possible to produce from local raw materials.
    • Highly effective life support systems, primarily closed biological systems, thanks to which a full, unlimited human life in space conditions will be possible.
    • Improvement of modern design and production technologies so that the development of newly created complex projects is carried out by a small team in a short time, and the practical implementation of projects is carried out using highly automated, possibly self-developing production facilities at the expense of local resources. This will make it possible to implement programs for the development of the Solar system not at the expense of a small number of bulky enterprises located on Earth and relying only on terrestrial resources, but at the expense of small, quickly responding to changes in highly motivated teams using local raw materials for work.

    Most of this list seems unbearable for a team of 10 people working in their free time. Most of the list, but not the whole :)

    I figured that biological life support systems (BSOs) are a direction that you can start developing without super laboratories and multi-billion dollar investments. They need plants, greenhouses, something simpler than accelerators for the study of antimatter :) In addition, I heard that in Russia they dealt with this issue and achieved certain successes, in particular, they built purely technical systems as well as systems based on microalgae of chlorella and higher plants . I talked about the BSO with Oleg Voloshin, spokesman for the Institute of Biomedical Problems(IBMP) RAS, and he introduced me to Margarita Aleksandrovna Levinsky, who is working in this area.

    Before telling the actual work in the field of BSW, it is necessary to explain why life support systems are generally needed and how they developed.

    Formal definition of “life support system”

    I would like to note that the history of the development of life support systems is splendidly told in the speech “Systems of life support systems of inhabited space objects (Past, Present and Future)”, Doctor of Technical Sciences, Professor, Honored Scientist of the Russian Federation Yu.E. Bruise.

    First you need to give a formal definition of the life support system. For this, we have GOST 28040-89"The life support system of an astronaut in a manned spacecraft." According to it, the cosmonaut’s LSS is a set of functionally interconnected means and measures designed to create conditions in the inhabited compartment of a manned spacecraft that maintain the energy and mass exchange of the astronaut’s body with the environment at a level necessary to maintain its health and performance. "


    Usually, its composition includes :
    SOGS - the system ensuring the gas composition,
    the CBO - the water system,
    SSGO - a system of sanitation and hygiene supplies,
    SOP - secu system eniya power,
    TCS -. system thermal control

    can now talk about how life-support systems have been developed.

    SJO in the pre-space era


    The first SJOs appeared before manned flights into space and were intended to ensure the work of crews on stratostats, high-altitude aircraft, as well as to ensure the livelihoods of animals, mainly dogs.
    Maintaining the normal composition of the atmosphere was ensured by introducing oxygen from gaseous or liquefied reserves into its composition and removing carbon dioxide using chemical reactions of the form:

    $ Ca (OH) _2 + СО_2 → Ca (СО_3) + Н_2О $

    Based on the startospheric LSS, systems for space were created.

    The first space LSS


    The first space LSS was first used to ensure the flight of the Laika dog on the Sputnik-2 spacecraft.
    Maintaining the normal composition of the atmosphere was ensured by the organization of chemical reactions according to the following scheme:

    $ 4CO_2 + 2 H_2O → 3O_2 + 4 KOH $

    $ 2KOH + СО_2 → К_2 СО_3 + Н_2О $

    $ K_2 СО_3 + Н_2О + СО_2 → 2 КНСО_3 $

    In addition, prototypes of food intake devices and a cesspool device were tested during this flight.

    On spaceships of the Vostok, Voskhod, and Soyuz type, a chemical reaction scheme similar to that on Sputnik-2 was used, however, activated carbon was additionally used for air purification, and lithium hydroxide was used on Soyuz spacecraft. In addition, there were oxygen and air cylinders on board. The atmosphere was controlled by the content of oxygen and carbon dioxide. The water preserved with the silver preparation was stored on board in metal vessels with an internal volume covered with two-layer polyethylene. In addition, there was a sewage system and a thermal management system on board.


    Partially Closed LSS

    The reason for the appearance of partially-closed LSS is the need to deliver a large amount of oxygen, water, food from the Earth during long space flights with the first LSS. An illustration of the increase in flight duration is a table with some typical examples; even below is a mass summary of the expendable components of the LSS during a flight to Mars for a duration of 500 days according to the act speech of Yu.E. Bruise .



    Here it must be said that the estimates for the mass of water for flying to Mars are surprising when compared with the mass of water consumed now on the ISS, but the big difference is explained by the fact that the ISS does not use water for showering, washing, washing clothes and washing dishes, which reduces the weight to 9300 kg for 6 people for 500 days, which is quite comfortable for modern space technology.
    But when designing the LSS of the Martian ship, you may need a shower and other necessities requiring a large amount of water. In this case, closed life support systems will be extremely necessary.

    On board the Mir station, which was successfully operated in manned mode from 1986 to 2000, the following systems were developed:
    • "SRV-K" - a system for the regeneration of water from atmospheric moisture condensate,
    • "SRV-U" - a system for the recovery of water from urine (urine),
    • "SPK-U" - system for the reception and preservation of urine (urine),
    • "Electron" - an oxygen generation system based on the process of electrolysis of water,
    • "Air" is a carbon dioxide removal system,
    • "BMP" - block removal of harmful micro-impurities, etc.

    Closed Biological FFS

    Despite a significant decrease in cargo traffic to manned space stations with the appearance of partially-closed LSS on them, at present in real space flights only a partial short circuit in air and water has been achieved. It is now assumed that the complete closure of the cycle in terms of oxygen, carbon dioxide, water, food and waste products can be achieved using biological life support systems with autotrophic units, that is, with organisms that independently synthesize organic substances from inorganic, roughly speaking, plants.

    One of the BSLOs was created in IBMP based on the highly productive Lilac photobioreactors in which the unicellular algae Chlorella was cultivated. The description of “Lilacs” and other similar Soviet installations can be found in the fundamental work of Tsoglin L.N., Pronina N.A. “Biotechnology of microalgae” .

    With the help of “Lilac”, the following BSLC parameters for one person were achieved: the
    volume of photobioreactors - 45 liters, the
    specific productivity of the reactors - 15 g / (l day), the
    density of the chlorella suspension - up to 20 g / l, the
    electrical energy consumption for the system - 45 kW .

    For comparison, the Soviet space station Mir provided less than 35 kW with a crew of 3 people, and the International Space Station flying now - about 100 kW with a crew of 6 people. High consumption was caused by powerful DKsTV-6000 xenon lamps with a power of 6 kW each, and there were 6 of them in total. Plus cooling, medium circulation and so on. Then, it was not possible to significantly reduce energy consumption, so the system could not be used in flight.

    However, even in such a BSL, it was not possible to completely close the food cycle due to the excess protein content in chlorella for humans.

    Ground-based loop closure experiments in the SJO

    We list the main experiments with BSLO in chronological order. The above list does not pretend to be complete, additions are only welcome.
    1964, BIOS-1, Department of Biophysics, Institute of Physics, Academy of Sciences of the USSR, for the first time a two-link human-chlorella life-support system closed by gas exchange was implemented.
    1966, BIOS-2, Department of Biophysics, Institute of Physics, Academy of Sciences of the USSR, two-link human-chlorella life-support system, water short circuit implemented.
    1967-1968, “The Year in the Earth's Starship” , IBMP. Crew 3 people, isolation for 365 days. Only technical devices were used, without biological elements.
    1968, BIOS-2, Department of Biophysics, Institute of Physics, Academy of Sciences of the USSR, the first experiments were carried out in the three-link system "man - microalgae - higher plants."
    1972-1984, BIOS-3, Department of Biophysics, Institute of Physics, USSR Academy of Sciences. A series of experiments with crews of up to 4 people. The three-link system "man - microalgae - higher plants."
    1989 - present, BioHome , NASA, partially-closed system, with an emphasis on water treatment.
    1990 - present, MELiSSA , ESA. Microalgae to supply oxygen to the “crew” of three rats.
    1994 - p.t. CEEF , Institute for Environmental Sciences, Japan. - A series of experiments to study closed ecosystems, including experiments with crews of up to 2 people, up to 4 weeks long.
    1991-1994, Biosphere 2, University of Arizona. A series of unsuccessful experiments in an isolated biosphere of 1.5 hectares, modeling a tropical forest, ocean, desert, savannah and mangrove estuary. Crew 8 people.
    2017 - present, Yuegong-365 , China Space Agency. Crew of 4 people, isolation for 1 year. The first crew is 165 days, the second - 200 days. For the production of oxygen, higher plants are used, waste processing - with the help of flour worms - the larvae of the flour crustacean Tenebrio molitor.

    Introducing IBMP

    Now you can tell what led the acquaintance with IBMP. It turned out that there is a whole department dealing with closed biological life support systems. M.A. Levinsky and her colleagues are now engaged in higher plants, for example, the famous Lada greenhouse, which worked on the ISS, is their brainchild, but microalgae are close and interesting to them. The most important thing in this is that Margarita Alexandrovna is ready to help us!

    Cosmonaut Sergei Volkov on board the ISS is working with the Lada greenhouse.

    Having found out all this and armed with the support of Margarita Alexandrovna, we started making our own photobioreactor.

    First prototype

    The first photobioreactor began to be created during a break in the work on the “Mayak”, when all the tests passed and it was necessary to wait for the launch. The lull lasted from December 2016 until about the end of April 2017. During this time, we were able to create this.

    Appearance of the first prototype photobioreactor

    Device diagram of the first prototype photobioreactor

    Main characteristics of the first prototype
    The volume of the medium with chlorella is 2.5 liters.
    Power consumption - 65 watts.
    Sources of radiation - LEDs with wavelengths of radiation 440-460 nm, blue, and 650-660 nm, red.
    Management - Arduino Mega.
    Culture medium - Tamiya of the following composition, g / l

    $ KNO_3 - 5.0;  $

    $ MgSO_4 × 7H_2O - 2.50; $

    $ KH_2PO_4 - 1.25; $

    $ FeSO_4 × 7H_2O - 0.003; $

    $ EDTA - 0,037; $

    $ Trace elements - 1 ml. $

    Trace elements (g / l):

    $ H_3BO_3 - 2.86; $

    $ MnCl_2 × 4H_2O - 1.81; $

    $ ZnSO_4 × 4H_2O - 0.222; $

    $ MoO_3 - 176.4 mg / 10l; $

    $ NH_4VO_3 - 229.6 mg / 10l. $

    The composition of the photobioreactor:

    • a container with a nutrient medium,
    • medium circulation system
    • lighting system,
    • system for measuring the optical density of the medium,
    • environment temperature control system,
    • gas supply system
    • control system,
    • Power Supply,
    • body.

    In this setup, experiments were carried out according to the following algorithm:

    1. The tank was filled with nutrient medium,
    2. Chlorella culture was placed in the container,
    3. Turned on air and mixing.
    4. The thermoregulation system was turned on, which maintained a constant temperature of the medium by periodically turning on the fan.
    5. An optical density measuring system using a turbidity sensor measured the optical density of the medium. The higher the Turbidity scale in the graphs below, the greater the transparency of the medium, and therefore, the lower the chlorella content. With the growth of culture, a decrease in transparency and a decrease in the value of the Turbidity parameter are observed.
    6. The plant carried out the cultivation of chlorella for several days.

    The experimental results are shown in graphs.

    For those interested, the raw data is available at:

    On the graphs on the left you can see that the temperature control system maintains a given ambient temperature of 36 ° C, optimal for crop growth, during the whole cultivation time, with the exception of the transition mode at the beginning.

    The graphs on the right show that during the cultivation process there are four periods:

    • the initial one, in which the microalga did not produce an increase in optical density,
    • plot of growth, which shows a clear increase in optical density and biomass,
    • stabilization area, where biomass growth stopped and
    • plot of death of the culture, in which the optical density decreased.

    The maximum density achieved for chlorella culture is 0.1363 mg / l.
    The maximum achieved specific productivity of chlorella is 4 * 10 ^ -3 mg / (l * day).

    Everything seems to be good, but the performance of the IBMP reactors is very far. There it turned out: The
    maximum achieved density of the chlorella culture is 20 g / l.
    The maximum achieved specific productivity of chlorella is 15 g / (l * day).

    If we assume that 900 grams of chlorella contained in 45 liters is enough to support the life of one person, then to place the same amount in our first prototype, we need as many as 6603081 liters or 6603 cubic meters! These are over 33,000 standard bathtubs!

    Therefore, after the first prototype, we decided to build a second one in order to obtain high rates, primarily in terms of a higher density of chlorella culture and specific productivity.

    Second prototype

    What do we plan to implement in the second prototype?

    1. Choose a diode emission spectrum more suitable for chlorella in order to increase the productivity of its cultivation from one spent Watt. For this, we plan to carry out a series of reactor starts with narrow-band radiation sources and choose those that give the fastest chlorella growth.
    2. Increase the radiation intensity so that microalgae cells receive more energy and grow faster. We even consider lasers as such a source :)
    3. Monitor all parameters of the nutrient medium - temperature, acidity, gas composition at the inlet to the reactor and at the outlet.
    4. Build an automatic cavity cleaning system. It’s a very long time to disassemble it to wash :))

    More details about what we plan to do is written in the TOR for the second prototype .

    By implementing these steps, we hope to come closer to the results of IBMP. There is a lot of interesting work ahead, which in the literal sense will be able to bring flights beyond the limits of low Earth orbit!

    As they say, stay with us, do not switch the channel! :)

    List of references
    The most interesting thing is to read real scientific work on the topic of BSLO, so you can use the domestic system to find them. It should be noted that in the list of publications there is not only work on the BSL.
    Publications M.A. Levinsky , IBMP,
    Publications of colleague Margarita Alexandrova V.N. Sycheva ,
    Publications of the Head of the Phototroph Biosynthesis Management Laboratory
    A.A. Tikhomirova from the Krasnoyarsk Institute of Biophysics,
    Information on NASA's work in the field of SJO ,
    Information on the European Melissa program .

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