The Objectives of MELiSSA are to prepare future manned missions via an increase of the crew autonomy. In other words to produce Oxygen, water and Food via recycling processes.
No, MELiSSA can be used for transit phase and surface habitat. The approach of MELiSSA is organized by functions: Oxygen production, water production, urine nitrification, food production,… So depending of the missions requirements we will used a part, or the complete loop. The comparison and selection of the preferred architecture is done via the ALiSSE criteria: efficiency, mass, energy, safety , crew time.
Any design of a circular system requires a top view. In other words, as all the building blocks of the loop are connected, you cannot design one block without thinking of the complete loop impact. The efficiency of each building block is crucial and a circular approach is not enough you need to consider a metabolic one, this is why we are often speaking of an artificial ecosystem.
Now, the challenges are not “limited” to efficiency only, you need to consider impact of reduced gravity and space environment too.
The project is organized in 5 family of activities: Academic research, Flights experiments, Ground Demonstration, Terrestrial applications, Education & Communication.
The project is managed by the MELiSSA partners, 14 entities who have signed a Memorandum of Understanding. This board is chaired by the European Space Agency.
Virtually, anybody who follows the MOU rules and agreed with the deterministic approach of the project. Today more than 50 organizations contribute to the project over 14 countries.
The proper answer to this one is probably:
Why man has no try to duplicate the Earth functions earlier ? In other words, although humans are fully depending of the Earth ecosystem functions (e.g. oxygen, water, food, ...), we have today no back-up. Anyone who looks a bit more carefully to the challenges of artificial ecology will rapidly perceive the enormous difficulties. We have seen over the years many similar projects : CELSS, CEEF, CERES, BIOSPHERE 2… almost all of them had to stop due to incorrect evaluation of the challenges, and necessary amplitude and duration of the efforts.
You can always flight a piece of hardware and realize after it did not work. This approach is empiric and extremely expensive. This is no the MELiSSA one. Within MELiSSA we do prefer an intensive characterization of our processes on ground, then a participation to a competitive tender.
This allows the project to be regularly evaluated, and to have a very good ratio of success of our flight experiment. The most convincing one is the MELiSSA project reactivity during ARTEMISS flight, despite a few weeks of delay on the launch pad, we succeed to start the four bioreactors, adapt in flight the protocols and bring convincing engineering results.
Nine experiments have been already performed on board ISS and Foton. Almost all of them have been selected during International competition (e.g. ILSRA). This competitive approach guaranty a high quality work. These results are published. The last one was the ARTEMISS , where the transformation CO2 to O2 kinetics was demonstrated. The next ones are for plants (WAPS) and for Urine (URINIS).
Only partially, the rest will be provided by higher plants (e.g. tomato, potatoes, wheat, soybean, spinach, …). Spirulina presents however a major advantage to have a high concentration in proteins and can act as a very nice food complement.
Almost everything starts from the vision of a Space Engineer, Mr. Claude Chipaux, around 1987, in the company MATRA (today AIRBUS).
Very rapidly he involved a few scientists and/or colleagues, Pr. Marcel Lefort-Tran, Dr. Guy Dubertret, Pr. Max Mergeay, Pr. Willy Verstraete, and Mr. Daniel Kaplan. This motivated groups successfully convinced ESA (i.e. Jean François REDOR, Chris SAVAGE, Roger BINOT), to start a small activity on the interest of closed loop life support system.
The first publication was presented in October 1988, and the first ESA contract was signed in March 1989. In parallel, a very basic experiment was performed on board the Chinese rocket Long March in August 1987, supported by CNES, and the first two MELiSSA PhDs were recruited by MATRA (e.g. Jean Francois Cornet and Christophe Lasseur). To our knowledge the first MELiSSA trainee was Remy Filali in CNRS Gif sur Yvette.