Membrane-aerated bioreactors for treatment of waste water in long-term space flight



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Texas Tech University


In the future, long-duration space exploration will require the design of robust advanced life support systems capable of supporting in-flight crews. The advanced life support systems should be reliable while requiring little to no maintenance and monitoring. Past systems onboard the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) SkyLab and Russia's MIR Space Station utilized an efficient but expensive physio/chemical water recovery system. The past systems were not independent and relied on shuttle resupply. Current NASA research is focused on water recovery systems involving biological treatment. The objective of the biological treatment system in combination with the physio/chemical system is to limit shuttle resupply and required astronaut maintenance while meeting NASA's requirements for flight-ready water recovery systems. Performance objectives based upon Finger et al. (1999) include a microgravity compatible design, a minimum of 50% nitrification and a 365 day operation life. Other performance objectives include an increase in reliability and a reduction in astronaut maintenance time when compared to the current design.

One of the most extensively analyzed biological water recovery systems was built and operated at NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC). A downscaled model (l/20'^) of the water recovery system at JSC has been analyzed at Texas Tech University (TTU) for the last four years. Although efficient, the current nitrifying bioreactor within the biological system has experienced problems with excessive loss of biofilm and constant required crew observation. In an attempt to increase the efficiency of the biological portion of the WRS, a gravity compatible membrane-aerated bioreactor (MABR) was constructed and operated at TTU in August 2003.



Space flight, Bioreactors, Water, Life support systems