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Space: Advanced critical technologies from ENEA and ASI to support life on the Moon

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Innovative systems based on the work of bacteria and insects To convert waste produced by astronauts into fertilizer to grow crops Microgreens are beneficial such as: Fresh food on long-duration space missions. This is what ENEA has achieved as part of project Rebus[1]FFunded by the Italian Space Agency (ASI)[2]in which Cnr, the Istituto Superiore di Sanità (ISS), Thales Alenia Space Italia, Kayser Italia, Telespazio, the Universities of Tor Vergata, Pavia and Federico II of Naples also participate, the latter in the role of leader.

This is real Technology Ecosystems Spaces capable of ensuring optimal recycling of resources, allowing Increasingly independent management regarding the supply of land. This goal requires the application of safe and effective solutions for a spatial circular bioeconomy that involves the production of resource-enriched vegetables On site It is obtained through recycling waste. Organic. The goal is to ensure continuous production of fresh food for astronauts while reducing waste and disposal costs.

“The new race for space exploration, undertaken by major international space agencies and private companies, is being developed through the program Artemis Coordinated by NASA“Which involves building bases on the Moon, which cannot be continuously supplied from Earth as is the case with the International Space Station,” explains Angiola Desiderio of the ENEA Biotechnology Laboratory. “In this context, waste becomes a fundamental resource that can be recovered and recycled, through the creation of bio-life support systems in space, the so-called BLSS (Bio-Life Support Systems).”

In addition to the interaction between humans and plants, in bioregenerative systems it is also necessary to introduce decomposer organisms, in order to create a virtuous circle in which each biological component uses the metabolic waste of the others as a resource.

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Based on NASA data on waste generated during missions on the International Space Station, ENEA created a mixture of food scraps, cellulose wipes, inedible parts of vegetable produce (such as roots, leaves, and stems) as well as human urine, and subjected them to bioconversion processes using… Two classes of degrading organisms: bacteria that function in anaerobic conditions and army fly larvae (Hermitia shines), a type of dipteran that is also used to fertilize terrestrial plants.

After characterizing specific bacterial consortia capable of digesting organic matter and converting it into molecules that plants can use as food, ENEA analyzed the digestion products and tested them in microgreen culture experiments, demonstrating their potential use as fertiliser. The same waste mixture was then used to develop decomposition methods using soldier fly larvae, a species particularly suitable for space applications thanks to their limited tendency to fly, the efficiency and speed of the biotransformation process and the ability to decompose heterogeneous and complex matrices.

ENEA researchers have studied decomposition in terms of process efficiency and its effects on the insect’s life cycle, allowing the optimal conditions for waste diversion and its effectiveness on plant growth to be determined.

“The aim of our research is to develop sustainable, complete and practical systems for replenishing food resources in the space sector,” explains Angiola Desiderio. He concludes: “The principle of sustainability also has a certain importance for the impact on the land where the optimal use of resources has become a problem requiring appropriate solutions, according to the criteria of the circular bioeconomy. I refer in particular to places where plant production is limited due to the soil’s poverty in fertilizing elements, e.g. Hot or cold desert areas, or where environmental conditions (extreme temperatures, environmental pollution, war contexts) force agriculture in artificial environments to effectively recycle available resources.”

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