Impact of Deep Space Missions on Life Support Development

Orion capsule approaching Gateway

NASA Lunar Gateway

The reconfiguration of the Deep Space Gateway into the Lunar Gateway and the accelerated schedule to land humans on the Moon will have significant impact on the development of regenerative life support systems and the sustainability of deep space communities of humans.

The existing International Space Station (ISS) is in low Earth orbit. That orbit provides a microgravity environment, intermediate radiation and some logistic challenges. It also involves a strictly-controlled habitat and severe limitations on plant care due to the severely impacted schedule of astronauts. In contrast, the deep space environment differs from that in low Earth orbit in several ways. First, there is considerably more radiation. Second, low Earth is much better protected by the Earth’s magnetic field. Third, it is more difficult and much more expensive to re-supply deep space.

There has been much evolution of planned deep space human missions by NASA, and hence its partners. At one point, there was a plan to have astronauts visit and retrieve an asteroid. Then the plan was to have a large Deep Space Gateway station that would gain experience for deep space missions and advance life support technology. Then the plan was to place humans on the Moon in a sustainable manner. Now the plan is for a minimal Lunar Gateway and a human landing to the Moon by 2024 and worry about sustainability after that milestone.

A common denominator among the plans has been the need to use the NASA Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the Orion crew capsule. The SLS is an extremely powerful vehicle in terms of both propulsion and political clout. It will return some of the capabilities to NASA that were lost with the discontinuation of the Saturn V system. Since NASA has been strongly encouraged by the President to land humans on the Moon by 2024, private vehicles are now under consideration as well, if they can help achieve the deadline.

The original configuration of the Deep Space Gateway included a life support module that would have allowed the gateway to support astronauts with fewer resupply missions. It probably would have included a plant growth component.

However, due to the acceleration of a manned lunar landing mission, the Deep Space Gateway reconfigured minimalist approach focuses on providing an assembly node for short manned missions to the Lunar surface. There would also be a propulsion module and possibly an airlock module. A lunar lander would be ferried to the Gateway and the an Orion capsule would take astronauts to the Gateway. The astronauts would take the lander to the Moon for a few weeks, return to the Gateway and return to the Earth via the capsule. However, there will not be an enhanced life support module (at least not until much later).

According to a NASA source, after humans return to the Moon, then the Gateway and lunar base could focus on keeping people there on a sustainable basis. So plants in a long duration life support module might have to wait until after 2024.

The bottom line is that funding for deep space life support and sustainability will be likely delayed. If there are other cost overruns, life support and the biological sciences can get cut disproportionately. Since sustainability is untimely a cost-saver, this means that deep space communities will be more expensive for the foreseeable future, due to greater resupply expenses. The only silver lining is that there will be more time to “get it right” for sustainable life support technologies.

References

eXploration Habitat (X-Hab) Academic Innovation Challenge 2015

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xhab1 ( photo credit: Space Grant)

The eXploration Habitat (X-Hab) 2015 Academic Innovation Challenge is a university-level competition involving hands-on design, research, development, and manufacture of functional prototypical subsystems  for space habitats and deep space exploration missions. The Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) Exploration Augmentation Module (EAM) project will offer multiple X-Hab awards of $10k – $20k each.

NASA will  benefit from the challenge by sponsoring the development of innovative concepts and technologies from universities, which will result in innovative ideas and solutions that could be applied to exploration.

University teams will design and produce functional products of interest to the EAM project according to their interests and expertise. The prototypes produced by the university teams may be integrated onto existing NASA-built operational prototypes. Universities may collaborate together on a project team.

For more information, see: http://www.spacegrant.org/xhab

NASA Ames Sustainability Base wins 2013 GEELA Award

NASA Sustainability Base Scene3 CourtYard B

NASA Sustainability Base courtyard

NASA Ames Sustainability Base wins a 2013 GEELA Award for the category of Sustainable Practices or Facilities. The GEELA Program, which stands for Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Awards, is run by the California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal/EPA).

Introduction

NASA’s first sustainable space “settlement” is located in the heart of Silicon Valley, at the NASA Ames Research Center in California. “Using NASA innovations originally engineered for space travel and exploration, the 50,000 square-foot, lunar-shaped Sustainability Base is simultaneously a working office space, a showcase for NASA technology and an evolving exemplar for the future of buildings.” (Ames website). Through a combination of NASA innovations and commercial technologies, Sustainability Base leaves virtually no footprint.

Background

In 2007, NASA held a ‘Renovation by Replacement’ (RbR) competition designed to replace antiquated and inefficient buildings with new, energy-efficient buildings. NASA Ames Associate Director, Steve Zornetzer was inspired by sustainability architect Bill McDonough to apply the closed-loop thinking that NASA uses in space exploration to a green building on Earth.

Sustainability Base is one of the greenest Federal buildings ever constructed.   Although Sustainability Base isn’t a spacecraft, it was created with the vision that everything about the design would support both human and planetary well-being. As NASA Ames Center Director Pete Worden says, “This tiny planet we share is our only home.”

Power & Water

The building also generates generates most the power it needs through a variety of photovoltaics (solar panels), a highly efficient fuel cell and a small wind turbine. NASA spinoff Bloom Energy provided the advanced fuel cell.

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Arial view of NASA Sustainability Base

Sustainability Base uses uses 90 percent less potable (drinking) water than a traditional building of comparable size. NASA achieves this through use of a forward-osmosis water recycling system designed for use on the International Space Station.

 

Information and Smart Systems

Sustainability Base uses a sophisticated array of technology to go beyond being a “smart building” and move into the realm of the intuitive. The building can anticipate and react to changes in sunlight, temperature and usage, and will be able to optimize its performance automatically in response to internal and external change.

Those who work at Sustainability Base are an integral part of keeping the building sustainable. Each individual has a personal dashboard that shows their energy usage at any given moment and even suggests energy conservation activities, as simple as lowering the shades or opening windows.

NASA Sustainability Base |2013 GEELA Awards website

ESA Closed Loop Life Support

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MELIiSSA loop

The European Space Agency’s MELIiSSA (Micro-Ecological Life Support System Alternative) research program “aims to develop the technology required for a future biological life support system for long term manned space missions.” In fact, MELISSA claims to go “further than other recycling systems used on Mir or the International Space Station which purify water and recycle exhaled carbon dioxide”, by attempting to “recycle organic waste for food production.”

See full article.