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Technology and Innovation for Development of Modular Equipment in Scalable Advanced Life Support Systems for Space Exploration

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - TIME SCALE (Technology and Innovation for Development of Modular Equipment in Scalable Advanced Life Support Systems for Space Exploration)

Reporting period: 2016-02-01 to 2018-04-30

The TIME SCALE project represents the first steps in developing life support systems for long duration human space flight exploration missions to Moon or Mars. An Advanced life support system breadboard (prototype) has been developed in the project as a future space technology test-bed on the International Space Station allowing scientific research and technology demonstration under space exploration relevant gravity conditions (Moon/Mars and micro-gravity). Compared to the current plant cultivation systems on the space station, the TIME SCALE Crop cultivation system has larger and more advanced plant cultivation chamber and a recycling of water and nutrient management system. Such a test-bed will provide essential knowledge and technology to ensure a safe and reliable food supply in future space exploration and integration into a Closed regenerative life support system.

The TIME SCALE project has strengthened the European competitiveness within life support system technologies for human space exploration and for controlled agriculture on Earth. Inspired by the space exploration close loop systems and cooperation between European universities and industry, life science results have been established and innovative technology developed with impact on sustainable food production on Earth. Technologies for monitoring water nutrient (Multi-selective ion sensor system) and plant health monitoring (Compact- gas chromatography) during crop cultivation have been developed, tested and launched onto the commercial marked. In addition a Multispectral image analysis system for plant health monitoring is currently being evaluated for a license agreement.
Scientific results on plant nutrient and water management has been gained, e.g. on nutrient solutions uptake and plant physiological response with high relevance for scientific research, fundamental understanding and commercial horticulture cultivation of lettuce. Stress responses in plants have been revealed through non-destructive imaging and gas-analyses. The results are important for sustainable food production on Earth and life support systems for space exploration that are currently being published in highly ranked journals.

As part of the TIME SCALE project student events and outreach activities have been organized. We know for sure that 900 student and pupils have been reached. This has contributed to visibility and recognition, educate the public about ISS research opportunities, and point out Earth applications of Closed Regenerative Life Support System technology.
The TIME SCALE project was initiated by the development of a project scenario. In this scenario, the project work was planned and structured as means to achieve project success (i.e. fulfil the objectives).

Following the ESA standards, Crop cultivation system requirements and requirements for an Algae cultivation chamber were defined. An effort was made to bridge the gap between desired growth conditions and available resources, space and time to keep within the boundary conditions of the ISS. Based on these requirements, an implementation-plan was outlined, illustrating the foreseen work flow from design concept to verification phase.

A Crop cultivation system concept and the Modular test bed concept to be used during the verification testing were developed. The Crop cultivation system breadboard design focused on the Plant cultivation chamber and Water and nutrient management subsystems. Concepts for two different Algae cultivation chambers were developed: one with a focus on a life support research/technology demonstration, and the other on fundamental biological research. These could replace the Plant cultivation chambers in the overall system.

The Crop cultivation system breadboard and the Modular test bed were developed and assembled.

Functionality (without plants) and life testing (with plants) were performed. The operational concept of the breadboard was demonstrated. Valuable experience was gained for the next model towards a flight system for the International space station.

In parallel to the Crop cultivation system development and validation, life science experiments linked to water and nutrient management and plant health monitoring were performed.

Technology development on the Multi- ion sensor system, Compact- gas chromatography and Multispectral image analysis system were finalized.
The TIME SCALE project has developed an innovative concept for cultivating plants and algae on the International space station. The operational capability of the Crop cultivation system has been demonstrated on ground using the Modular test bed hence the project has fulfilled the first step towards flight hardware for space station. The project has progressed beyond the state of the art for life support technologies with a crop cultivation system with larger Plant cultivation chamber subsystem and a recycling Water and nutrient management subsystem. This includes a Mult-ion sensor system for monitoring specific ions in the nutrient solutions.

The life science results have been established and innovative technology developed in the project also has an impact on sustainable food production on Earth. The CleanGrow Multi-ion sensor system was based on a manual sampling and developed into an automated at-line measurement of eight specific ions in nutrient solutions. This system is already on the commercial marked for use in hydroponic systems in horticulture, water quality analyses in laboratory or in the river and lakes. Based on early stress detection in plants using the SIFT-MS (Selected-ion flow-tube mass spectrometry), two modules of the Interscience Compact gas chromatography analyser have been launched onto the marked. The first module is a thermal desorption for ultratrace level analysis of (stress) volatiles and the second module is a programmable oven for superior chromatographic performance and maximum flexibility.

Scientific results on plant nutrient and water management have been gained, e.g. on nutrient solutions uptake and plant physiological response with relevance for scientific research and commercial horticulture cultivation of lettuce. Stress responses in plants have been revealed through non-destructive imaging and gas-analyses. The results are important for sustainable food production on Earth and life support systems for space exploration.
The knowledge and technologies from the project will have an impact both nutrient solution recycling and early stress detection in plants, improving future sustainable food production.