After designing the prototype, ordering and receptions of the parts, our team was ready to assemble it. We assembled the first version of the prototype. Our first prototype has the structure of a one-unit CubeSat. It was designed with the goal of presenting it at the pitch talk we are about to do at the end of the Space Challenges program.
Within a week after the first prototype we will receive a 3-Unit CubeSat structure created by a 3D printer. That would enable us to assemble a fully functional version of the prototype.
In order to test and operate the photobioreactor we need an algae species. We did a research for suitable algae. During the research we consulted the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. We needed an algae that would be most suitable for Space conditions. The species we chose is Scenedesmus incrassatulus.
Scenedesmus incrassatulus is one of a common freshwater genera, used for food, water treatment, fuels, and others. This species of algae is tolerant to changes in environmental conditions and it can sequestrate carbon dioxide, or to put it simply, recycle oxygen.
We are currently growing our algae before inserting them into the reactor. This past week we started the growing process using a growing kit. We expect to have enough biomass of algae to use in our prototype by Friday.
On the 15th and 16th the Space O2 team and the Space Challenges cadets made a trip to the Rozhen National Astronomical Observatory.
At Rozhen we became acquainted with some of the research currently undergoing in the observatory. We were impressed with the efforts for discovery of distant stars and planets.
In the evening we got a tutorial on constellations in the night sky where we learned how to recognize several constellations. After the tutorial we watched the Leonid meteor shower. The Leonids were very active as it was a night before the shower’s peak.
The visit was very exciting. It also reminded us of the goal of our project. The stars and other planets are very distant from us. In order to reach them we need a find ways to support human life in Space. This is where our project can contribute. Our project is tackling the problem of oxygen supply for long-range Space travel missions.
This Thursday, a speech was given by Antonio Fortunato, manager of the EUROCOM (the team that communicates directly with astronauts at the International Space Station), and deputy lead of the ISS crew operations team. He talked about the European experience in building and operating the ISS, and shared gripping stories about life-threatening situations with astronauts.
The speech raised important questions pertaining to sustaining human life in Space. Currently many supplies including oxygen and food have to be transported from Earth by resupply missions. The costs to put all this supply to space is staggering. The last resupply mission to the ISS had a cost of over 200 million USD.
In order to support human life in Space during long-range missions we have to build a closed-loop system, capable of providing oxygen, water and food. This is a very ambitious and long-term project, yet it is crucial to our future in Space.
The goal of our project is to make a system that solves the problem of inability to produce oxygen, water and food. Making an operational photobioreactor, capable of operating in microgravity is the first step. This photobioreactor can be the foundation of a closed-loop system. The project’s end goal is to provide a cheap alternative to oxygen supply beyond low-earth orbit. This is a way our team can contribute to the ISS and future human-led Space exploration.
The goal of the SPACE O2 project is to design and build a prototype of a membrane photobioreactor, used for the fixation of CO2 in microgravity conditions. In a cylindrical vessel, we introduce a membrane that holds culture medium and cyanobacteria used for the CO2 fixation. Due to the difference in concentrations and pressures at both sides of the membrane, CO2 diffuses through it. CO2 is used by the microorganisms in the process of photosynthesis and, thus, its concentration is being reduced. For this purpose, certain conditions in the bioreactor should be maintained. Therefore, different sensors and control systems are needed. The latter are described in the Design Document, accompanying the project. Also, a pump is used to homogenize the medium inside the membrane, so that all the microorganisms have optimal growth conditions.
It is important to note that for the prototype we consider a batch type bioreactor, i.e. nutrients are introduced in the system only at the beginning of the biotechnological process. We aim to study the behavior of such a system and its capability of fixating CO2. We set the objective for the prototype to be able to work autonomously for 72h in a microgravity environment. Moreover, its mass should not be more than 5 kg and its dimensions should not exceed 227 x 100 x 100 mm, i.e. 2U Cubesat.
The Photobioreactor Team is thinking hard on organization, bioreactor’s design, and how to make it work!
Donald James inspires the audience
On Wednesday, SPACE O2 presented the membrane photobioreactor project to Donald James, a high-ranking NASA official, and an audience of Space Challenges’ cadets and guests to the program. The goal of SPACE O2 is to design and engineer a photobioreactor for oxygen production, capable of operating in microgravity. The photobioreactor is planned to have the dimensions of two CubeSat-s and to operate in microgravity autonomously for 72 hours. It is a step forward to provide an alternative to the current practices of supplying oxygen in manned space missions only by delivering the oxygen from Earth. Currently, the SPACE O2 team is refining the mathematical model of the reactor and expects to perform initial experiments within the next weeks. We will keep you posted on the progress of our project.
After our presentation, Mr. James gave a speech about NASA’s history and current projects. He told powerful stories about his involvement in educating the public about NASA and the societal benefits NASA generates. Donald showed how people from different backgrounds, either academic or ethnic, can contribute to mankind’s exploration of space and other planets. Donald emphasized the importance of clearly communicating a project and delivering beyond expectations. His words inspired our team deeply.