Managing Space Food Waste with Fermentation: Novel System Design Update



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50th International Conference on Environmental Systems


Food preservation and waste management are challenges that concern astronauts living in space habitats, and for deep space travel. This research presents fermentation as a food waste management system in space. It is one of the oldest forms of food preservation, and this technique can be harnessed for life-support in space in addition to its Earth-based benefits. Fermentation is the transformation of food by microorganisms, and this process can be used to help manage waste by preserving the nutritional value of fresh ingredients, repurposing food waste, and growing new food and targeted nutrients. This study will focus on the optimization of fermentation in enclosed space environments with near term benefits. A prototype for a fermentation chamber is in development to control and capture data on fermented food for the purpose of waste management. The chamber will be equipped with sensors to collect environmental data including radiation, temperature, humidity, pressure, gas, Volatile Organic Compounds and a carbon dioxide reading, and observable visual changes. Expanding on existing space-ready food technologies, it will be designed for possible future deployments and integration into the International Space Station. In addition to the hardware, we are developing new applications for space food products and fermentation-based recipes. A prototype for this research has already been developed and tested. In this initial experiment, a sample of miso was sent to the ISS for a 30 days mission, and compared to ground control samples. The samples were contained in chambers equipped with the above sensors. Through this continuing experiment and an evolution of hardware platforms, we aim to learn what ecological changes may have occurred within the sample, and to develop a standardized process for space fermentation. This paper presents a hardware-focused recap of phase I and describes the current prototype approach for phase II.


Maggie Coblentz, Massachussets Institute of Technology
Ariel Ekblaw, Massachussets Institute of Technology
Noah Feehan, MIT Space Exploration Initiative
Joshua Evans, University of Oxford
Nabila Rodriguez, Alchemist
Diego Prado, Alchemist
Rasmus Munk, Alchemist
ICES304: Physio-Chemical Life Support- Waste Management Systems- Technology and Process Development
The 50th International Conference on Environmental Systems was held virtually on 12 July 2021 through 14 July 2021.


Fermentation, Waste management, Closed-loop food systems, Food preservation, Space food