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Advanced Exploration Systems Division

Bio-manufacturing for Space Applications

Active Technology Project

Project Introduction

Bio-manufacturing for Space Applications

Long-duration human exploration and habitation on other planets such as Mars will require not only bringing supplies, but also the ability to use local resources to manufacture needed mission products. In situ resource utilization and manufacturing can lead to substantial mass and volume savings, and increase mission self-sustainability. Example mission materials needed include food and nutrients, polymers (plastics), medicines, fuels, binders and various feedstock chemicals.

The overarching goal of this project is to develop and demonstrate advanced biological systems that utilize local resources to manufacture high-value products on demand. In many cases, biological systems are either cheaper than competing physico-chemical systems or are the only known method of production. A major project task includes developing methods that efficiently and rapidly convert carbon dioxide and hydrogen to organic substrates that microbes can use to grow and make mission products. Carbon dioxide is the primary component of the Martian atmosphere and is therefore an abundant source of carbon and oxygen. Hydrogen can also be obtained from locally-sourced water. Together, these molecules can form the basis for a wide array of products that support human missions.

Another major goal of this project is to demonstrate the ability to engineer microorganisms that produce human nutrients on-demand. Providing nutrition on long-duration missions via stored dehydrated food or by growing plants may lead to deficiencies in certain vitamins/nutrients. We are therefore demonstrating the capability to rapidly generate a specific carotenoid (an anti-oxidant) using an engineered yeast grown on an edible dehydrated media. This includes an initial demonstration on the International Space Station over the course of several years to investigate long-duration storage of the microbes and media, and the ability to produce a nutrient of consistent quality and quantity.

These efforts seek to leverage the rapidly increasing capabilities being developed in the private sector, academia, and National Laboratories regarding genetic engineering, bioinformatics, advanced manufacturing and processing, and chemical engineering techniques. Together, with intentional collaboration, these research areas will spur novel technologies that facilitate microbial bio-manufacturing in space and on Earth.

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Technology Maturity (TRL)

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