Gardens in Space

Sustaining Life with micro-algae and flat panel reactors. This is where so-called life-sustaining circulatory systems come into play. Already, on the International Space Station (ISS), researchers have started reconstituting all kinds of things.

But the ISS has it easy: it’s relatively close to Earth. Several times a year it receives fresh provisions of food and water. But if people start traveling farther away from Earth, they’ll have to survive without the luxury of regular, fresh supplies.
And that’s why Jens Bretschneider at the Institute for Space Systems in Stuttgart is looking for new solutions. His team thinks the answer lies in biological systems, like micro-algae: “They make it possible to collect exhaled CO2 and create new oxygen, and at the same time build up biomass stocks.”

Brettschneider is working with a see-through plexiglass tank through which green water runs which bubbles away as exhaled air passes through it. “This tank is a flat panel reactor, with which we can cultivate algae on Earth in an efficient way,” Brettschneider says. “The advantage is that the gas is mixing with the algae constantly. That gives us a large contact area. We agitate the algae so that they move towards the light, and then move away from the light again – and that encourages them to grow faster.”

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Tooling Up for Hydroponics

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