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Center Innovation Fund: GRC CIF

Plasma-Assisted Life and Ecological Operating System (PALEOS)

Active Technology Project

Project Introduction

Plasma-Assisted Life and Ecological Operating System (PALEOS)
Practical implementation of long-duration, human space missions will require robust, reliable, advanced life support systems. Such systems have been the subject of research since the dawn of human spaceflight.1 Once astronauts reach the surface, food and water in addition to a sustainable, breathable atmosphere are also a necessity. In situ resource utilization on the surface can greatly reduce launch mass requirements and greatly extend surface operation duration, allowing more detailed and longer duration expeditions. This effort aims to address both in-transit and surface operations life support needs for a notional human expedition to the Moon, Mars2 and beyond. At the center of this proposed life support system is nonthermal plasma as the active element. Recent advances in plasma science has enabled the application of “cold” plasmas for water purification, air quality control (e.g. indoor pollution), and enhanced agriculture. Electrical energy can be used to convert any atmosphere into a plasma-activated, reactive gas for the purpose of carbon dioxide breakdown and ultimate extraction of oxygen, the generation of reactive species to treat water to all for potable water recycling, the extraction of water from permafrost3, plasma treatment of seeds for enhanced yield, and the plasma treatment for water to infuse important nitrates into solution for enhanced growth (plasma agriculture).4 In the laboratory, these functions have been demonstrated. We stand at the precipice of the advancement of plasma technology that has the transformative potential to greatly both enable and simply life support systems for human spaceflight. Investment in this proposed effort is important in that it sounds the groundwork for a viable advanced life support system that is generic in application. The transportable technology can support deep space transit as well as surface operations. It only requires electrical power—power of which is used to drive electrons to support nonthermal, high selectivity chemical reactions without the need for consumables—rather it utilizes available raw materials as its feed stock firmly grounding the approach as an in situ utilization method. The goal is to show that plasma-based subsystems can form the basis for a life support system. More »

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