The air on the International Space Station may soon get a whole lot fresher as astronauts start testing out an innovative new device called a “Photobioreactor”. According to Space.com, this algae powered bioreactor will use living algae to convert carbon dioxide exhaled by ISS astronauts into breathable oxygen and produce edible food through photosynthesis. Unlike the sci-fi flick ‘The Martian’, real astronauts can’t live on potatoes alone, so such closed-loop life support system capable of replenishing the spacecraft with essentials like air and food may be the only way ahead to realize missions into deep space.
The Photobioreactor arrived at the ISS on May 6th onboard a SpaceX Dragon Cargo ship and will soon be deployed in conjunction with the physiochemical air-recycling system, another closed loop life support system delivered in 2018 to convert carbon dioxide to useable methane and water. Algae in the photobioreactor will consume the leftover carbon dioxide to generate oxygen and the edible biomass as per Space.com. Researchers are optimistic that roughly 30 % of an astronaut’s food could be replaced by this edible product owing to its high protein content.
Oliver Angerer, the German scientist leading the project, said in a press release, “With the first demonstration of the hybrid approach, we are right at the forefront when it comes to the future of life-support systems. Of course, the use of these systems is interesting primarily for planetary base stations or for very long missions. But these technologies will not be available when needed if the foundations are not laid today.”