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

Période du rapport: 2015-02-01 au 2016-01-31

The TIME SCALE project will prepare ground for life support systems for long duration human space flight exploration missions to Moon or Mars. It will contribute both to technology demonstration and space life science within Closed regenerative life support systems, i.e. systems that will provide fresh food, oxygen and water to the astronauts. An Advanced life support system breadboard will be developed in the project as a future space technology test-bed allowing scientific research under space exploration relevant gravity conditions (Moon/Mars and microgravity). There is a gap in the scientific knowledge on higher plant and crop physiology and fundamental processes, as well as microalgae cultivation and microalgae specific metabolic processes under Moon and Mars gravity conditions. This scientific knowledge and technological demonstration are essential 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 will further develop the European Space Agency (ESA) payload European Modular Cultivation System (EMCS). The EMCS has been successfully operated on the International Space Station (ISS) for seven years with rotors allowing scientific research under Moon and Mars gravity exposures in addition to microgravity conditions. The main objective of the TIME SCALE project is to develop an EMCS Advanced life support system breadboard (prototype) and demonstrate the operational capability for the ISS. Concepts of cultivation systems for higher plants (crops) and algae bioreactors will be developed and for higher plants a breadboard will be developed and tested. The algae bioreactor concepts consider mass cultivation and biological research aspects as well. For the flight concept in an ISS scenario, some existing subsystems will be kept from the existing EMCS on ISS. The TIME SCALE Crop cultivation system concept for ISS and the breadboard to be developed have a focus on the Plant cultivation chamber and the Water and nutrient management sub-system. To monitor the nutrient solution in the cultivation system, reliable ion-specific electrode technology will be developed for unattended long duration measurements. The TIME SCALE project has a wider scope including Earth application and Space exploration beyond ISS. In this context the crop cultivation system will, in addition to the closed Water and nutrient management system, also include Plant health monitoring. Remote sensing diagnosis of plant health will be investigated using sensors and imaging techniques and Selected ion flow tube mass spectrometry or a Compact gas chromatography analyser. The knowledge and technology on nutrient and water recycling and early warning for plant suboptimal crop suboptimal growth conditions have relevant application both for ISS and in controlled agriculture on Earth.
The first TIME SCALE project period was initiated by the development of a project scenario. In this scenario, the project work is planned and structured as means to achieve project success (i.e. fulfil the objectives). A management tool was developed to summarize important questions and options facing the team throughout the project period, together with accompanying answers and decisions made by the project team.
Following the ESA standards, Crop cultivation system requirements and requirements for an Algae cultivation chamber have been defined. An effort has been made to bridge the gap between desired growth conditions and available resources, space and time to keep within the boundary conditions of the ISS and EMCS.

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 was then developed along with a Modular test bed concept to be used during the verification testing. The system concept included the closed Water and nutrient subsystem concept for flight and a concept for the breadboard to be built as part the project. In parallel, a detailed design of the Basic testing unit was developed and produced by Prototech AS. The Basic testing unit represents the first module of the Plant cultivation chamber subsystem to be included in the Crop cultivation system. They will be used for scientific testing and development of the Water and nutrient management subsystem and the plant health monitoring subsystem.

For the Water and nutrient management subsystem a recycling hydroponic set-up has been prepared at the Wagningen University. The Basic testing unit will be installed in this set-up, providing a platform for scientific and sensor technology testing. The tests will mainly be performed using lettuce, but also Arabidopsis. Literature and experts in the field are consulted to create a comprehensive scientific review document on plant substrates used in plant space research. As part of the Water and nutrient management technology innovation, CleanGrow has improved their Ion specific electrodes resulting in more precise measurement by making technological countermeasures in the areas that cause drift in solid state electrodes. In addition they are making progress in the development of automated sensor calibration. The sensor technology from CleanGrow will be tested in the Water and nutrient management platform.

The plant health monitoring system with sensors for a number of physiological parameters, is currently under construction at Ghent University. Considering the relevance for both space and Earth applications, drought and nutrient stress have been selected to perform sensor testing relevant for TIME SCALE and to carry out scientific research in accordance to the H2020 program. In addition to the report deliverables, it is foreseen to result in publications in leading scientific journals.
The TIME SCALE project has developed an innovative concept for cultivating plants and algae in EMCS on the ISS. The first model of the Plant cultivation chamber subsystem has been produced by Prototech, the Basic testing unit. CleanGrow has made advancement in ion specific electrode technology towards reduced sensor drift and automated sensor calibration, applicable to both space and Earth applications. In the following work this technology will be tested in the Basic testing units and as a part of a recycling water and nutrient management system.

Customised camera technologies and installation of Selected ion flow tube mass spectrometry from Interscience Belgium in laboratory facilities has been prepared. Testing is currently on-going for a proof of principles study and early stress detection in plants. Based on these results, a Compact gas chromatography analyser will be miniaturised by Interscience Netherlands.

For space application, the concepts and technology innovation so far in the TIME SCALE project represent the first steps towards filling a gap of scientific knowledge and technology demonstration under fractional gravity for plants and algae. This is knowledge and technology required for long term travel to Moon/Mars. The concepts also form the basis for discussing potential implementation scenarios on the ISS with European space agency support.
For Earth applications, unique scientific laboratory set-up have been prepared that will document beyond state-of the art knowledge in high-ranking scientific journals. The knowledge and technologies under development will impact both nutrient solution recycling and early stress detection in plants, improving future sustainable food production.
TIME SCALE group, Science Advisory Board, ESA representative at Critical Review 2, June 17-18, 2015
Bottom box of the Basic Testing Unit
Presentation of the EMCS Engineering Model, February 23, 2015
TIME SCALE group at project kick-off in Trondheim, Norway, February 23, 2015
Basic Testing Unit with bottom box (black) and cover (white) (top lid to be installed on top)
TIME SCALE project logo