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Biodegradation of Human Wastes in Space


Elaboration of Microbial Biodegradation Technology Towards Wastes in Space

Tech Area / Field

  • BIO-REM/Bioremediation/Biotechnology
  • BIO-MIB/Microbiology/Biotechnology
  • BIO-IND/Industrial Biotechnology/Biotechnology

3 Approved without Funding

Registration date

Leading Institute
Russian Academy of Sciences / Institute of Biomedical Problems, Russia, Moscow

Supporting institutes

  • State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology VECTOR / Institute of Molecular Biology, Russia, Novosibirsk reg., Koltsovo


  • DaimlerChrysler Aerospace, Germany, Bremen\nSankyo Frontier Co., Ltd., Japan, Chiba

Project summary

The increased duration of spaceflights and a tendency to most autonomisation of the spaceflights state the necessity for implementation of a new and fast technology for human waste management in space. The waste management strategy for the future piloted space missions should meet the benefits of crew members safety, respect principals of planet ecology, and compatibility with biological LSS. For these purpose the waste management technologies, relevant to application of the biodegradative properties of bacteria may be of great value.

Biological treatment method is based upon the biodegradation of organic substances by various microorganisms. Decomposition during composting occurs with air (aerobic) or during biogas processing without air (anaerobic) and results in the reduction of any existing organic matter.

The advantage of the system in general:

- it allows to diminish the volume of of organic wastes;
- the biological hasard of the wastes will be controlled;
- this system may be compatible with the other biological ELSS (greenhouses);
- the biogases created while biodegradation may be used for the other needs of space vehicle (propellants);
- the water obtained in the biodegradation processes may be used for the other needs of the space vehicle.

The biodegradation potential of microbes is determined by level of expression of genes, providing elaboration of enzymes, which release decomposition of substrates. Due to amplification of these genes the level of these enzymes production can be increased. Therefore gene engineering may be a reliable method for enforcement of microbial features relevant to biodegradation of organic matter.

Since microbial systems used in waste management are generally less expensive than the conventional chemical or physical methods, further development of engineered microorganisms may prove to be the method of choice for treating hasardous chemicals in the environment.

In addition to having applications for waste management issues on the earth, microbial systems may have an application in reducing waste volume aboard spacecraft. A candidate for such an application is the space station, where microorganisms may be used as bioreactor.

The solid waste treatment strategies of the spaceflights are nowadays based on the principals of isolation, compression and storage. This mainly concern feces, vomit, plastic, soft paper and cellulose swabs. This technology was implemented on OS Saljut, Mir, Freedom, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab and on Shuttle.

Despite of the attempts to elaborate or just to thihk over the new approaches to waste management systems, the existing concept of ISS solid waste management undertakes the former technology, based on storage, accumulation and dispose (D.Williams, 1996). At present time the problem of wastes utilization is arised by NASA specialists however up to now there are no any proposed and elaborated reliable alternatives to the existing waste management technologies.

System for waste management in space using biodegradation tools, proposed as an alternative to the existing one, is active, self-regulating system with low consume of energy. This system may be compatible with other life support systems. The creation of such a technology is of vital necessity.

The purpose of the proposed project is to elaborate technology of microbial biodegradation of human wastes in space.

General plan includes the following phases of the work:

1. Formation of optimal microbial association with the aid of collection strains of microbes capable for specific activity (mainly - cellulolytic).
2. Selection and determination of nucleotic sequence of genes, determinating biodegradation of cellulose and physiological wastes.
3. Creation of strains with directed activity due to amplification of genes, controlling desirable features; creation of vector plasmids (mainly for biodegradation of different cellulose-containing materials).
4. Construction of optimal microbial associations based on naturally formed and recombinant strains for biodegradation of human wastes in space.

Expected results

1. Сreation of technology of human wastes biodegradation as an active chain of on-board crew life support systems as well as the other engineering systems.
2. Creation, patenting and sertification of commercial preparate for initiation of biodegradation, based on natural microbial association and recombinant strains, for application in different fields of industries.

Potential role of foreign collaborators

Relevant investigations were carried out in certain foreign laboratories, including research base of DASA/DLR (Germany). As the project experts and partners for it’s fulfillment we want to invite:

— Klintworth Rolf, Daimler-Benz Aerospace, Head of the department, Bremen, Germany.
— Mathaus Gunter, Head of the Research Center DASA/DLR Trauen, Germany.

The preliminary considerations on reliability and feasibility of the project was performed together with the experts of DASA/DLR and ESA/ESTEC; the project was approved and considered to be worthy for practical implementation.

Possible American partner of the project: The Boeing Company.


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