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Project “URINIS – Urine nitrification in Space”

Opportunity for a PhD position

MELiSSA is the regenerative life support system for human spaceflight under development by the European Space Agency (ESA) (https://www.melissafoundation.org). This ambitious programme aims to produce food, oxygen and water from the mission wastes. Urine is here of key interest, given its high content of nitrogen, which can be recovered to serve as fertilizer for plants and cyanobacteria. Nitrification of urine is the preferred treatment technology, as it produces a stable liquid stream rich in nitrate and low in biodegradable organics.

After two successful experiments demonstrating that nitrifiers can be reactivated after spaceflight to low Earth orbit (Lindeboom et al., 2018; Ilgrande et al., 2019), the Belgian Federal Science Policy Office (BELSPO) and ESA have recently approved the second phase of ‘URINIS’, the URINIS project to demonstrate the feasibility of urine nitrification in space. The project, led by Ghent University in collaboration with the Belgian Nuclear Science Centre (SCK-CEN), the Université de Mons and the University of Antwerp, brings together top scientific teams in the field of applied microbiology and microbial ecology and technology to tackle the challenges of performing such experiments in space and develop the needed tools and methods to analyse its outcomes.

Within this PhD project co-supervised by Ghent University (prof. Ramon Ganigué & prof. Nico Boon) and University of Antwerp (prof. Siegfried Vlaeminck), the candidate will specifically investigate the impact of storage, microgravity and radiation on the activity of a model nitrite oxidizing bacterium. The scientist will collaborate and exchange knowledge with two fellow colleagues at the other institutes working respectively on a model ammonium oxidizing bacterium, and a model ureylytic bacterium.

More information


Regenerative Life Support Systems for Long Term Space Missions