Precursor of a Food Production Unit (PFPU)
A completely closed life support system today cannot be considered without food production and waste recycling (i.e. food production systems have in average an efficiency of 60%, the rest being waste). Although food production per sé is usually envisaged for long-term missions beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO), current missions in LEO provide a relevant test-bed for a Precursor of a Food Production Unit (PFPU).
As a matter of fact, it is today impossible to predict and control the nutritional quality of food at the level required by the medical operations, even in the case of a food complement. To this respect, over the last years, several MELiSSA activities from several programmes have been conceived to gain understanding of food production systems, develop the engineering tools (i.e. experimental infrastructure, models) for food systems characterisation and prediction, as well as elaborate concept of food production systems for full menu production. Although MELiSSA activities focus on food production in crewed surface base (i.e. Moon or Mars), most of the fundamental knowledge generated is also useful to food complement production under space condition.
So far, several technical issues related to the development, implementation and operations of food production system for space applications were identified and include the food quality prediction, food safety, microbial population management, humidity management, nutrient delivery management, integration strategy. Thus, considering the number of issues and their respective criticality, the cost-conscious development of a food complement production unit for space application requires a step-by step approach based on a modular technological demonstrator. Therefore, it is proposed to initiate the study of a modular food complement production unit demonstrator (PFPU).
Such demonstrator shall aim at a statistically representative production of edible tuberous plants in micro-gravity. The whole or modules of the demonstrator shall be implemented for manned and unmanned spaceflight. The production will be controlled with regards to plant growth. The production shall be possible from both seed or vitro-plant up to ready-to-harvest tubers. The demonstrator is conceived to minimize the resupply of consumables, including water.