Illustration of a photobioreactor as part of a biological life support system for a Mars habitat. (Copyright: Joris Wegner / ZARM, Universität Bremen)

A testbed for bioregenerative life support systems

Model habitat at ZARM enables long-term tests for life support systems to be used on Moon and Mars.

The Moon and Mars Base Analog (MaMBA) is a concept for an extraterrestrial habitat developed at the Center of Applied Space Technology and Microgravity (ZARM) at the University of Bremen, Germany. The long-term goal of the associated project is to create a technologically functional prototype for a base on the Moon or on Mars. A key aspect in the development of such a prototype is the integration of a bioregenerative life support system (BLSS) and its testing under realistic conditions. In particular, a long-term mission to Mars will require a BLSS with a reliability that is difficult to achieve without extensive testing well in advance of the mission.

Currently, there are defined standards for the comparison of different BLSS, which focus strongly on technological aspects. Important is, for example, the mass of the system, which has a strong impact on transportation costs, or the maximum power consumption. Time required for the crew in terms of maintenance and operation and, of course, safety risks, system reliability and sustainability aspects also play a role. These standards should be complemented by facilities that can concretely compare BLSS prototypes in principle on these points, as well as examine and optimize them for other points that arise from the factor “human” of a Moon or Mars mission.  For example, in terms of their requirements for logistics, crew training and of course regeneration after a failure or contamination. However, test facilities of this type have not been available to date.

A new paper by ZARM scientists Christiane Heinicke, Head of the Moon and Mars Base Analog (MaMBA) and Cyprien Verseux, Head of the Laboratory of Applied Space Microbiology (LASM) presents the MaMBA facility and its potential uses that can help to fill this gap. A BLSS can be integrated into the existing MaMBA mock-up as part of a collaborative effort and tested extensively over several months.

Link to publication: https://authors.elsevier.com/sd/article/S2214-5524(22)00066-9