How can we make human deep space travel a reality? Having the air to breathe is certainly one element that will support this.
The cyanobacterium Arthrospira sp. strain PCC8005 (commonly known as spirulina) is a candidate for use in spacecraft biological life support systems, for CO2 and nitrate removal, and oxygen and biomass production. However, to ensure the reliability of such a biological life support system it is necessary to characterize its response to in situ spaceflight conditions. This is where QinetiQ’s expertise comes into play with Artemiss.
Artemiss is an instrument (a photobioreactor) built by QinetiQ to help determine the effect of spaceflight conditions, including reduced gravity and increased radiation, on the Arthrospira’s morphology, physiology, and metabolism.
The Artemiss instrument was launched to the International Space Station (ISS) on December 2017 onboard the SpaceX’ Dragon spacecraft. It stayed onboard and in orbit for five weeks, during which the bacterium was cultured in a defined liquid mineral salt medium with constant illumination, temperature, and stirring over multiple generations. The science teams monitored all changes thanks to being able to access the data from space that Artemiss provided. The experiment worked successfully and we can say that Artemiss produced a breath of fresh air for the astronauts onboard the ISS.
QinetiQ’s space business is now planning and developing a second stage to the experiment: in Artemiss B, the bacterium was cultured in a batch regime and now, in Artemiss C, the bacterium will be cultured in a continuous 'steady state' regime and kept constant at a predefined cell density, by imposing a continuous in- and out-flow of the bioreactor, at a specific dilution flow rate, and appropriate light intensity.
QinetiQ is the European Space Agency’s prime contractor for this project, which is expected to fly back to the ISS by the end of next year. The experiment will give further insights into the adaptation of the bacterium to space conditions. We’re looking forward to helping humanity become an interplanetary species! And just as an added curiosity: did you know that the spirulina is also used to give the M&M’s their blue color?