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Why Moscow Engineers Grow Cosmic Algae in Basement
March 19, 2018 19:36


Engineer Alexander Shaenko and his project team 435nm have designed a photobioreactor, which is indispensable in space travel.
A photobioreactor - a vital instrument for long-distance space flights - is being developed in a Moscow basement to provide travelers with oxygen, food and pure drinking water.
“During long flights, you need a lot of air, food and water, and you can not bring all the supplies from the Earth, so unless you recycle, the cargo on the ship will be unbearable," - Alexander Shaenko explains. This is what a photobioreactor is needed for - to solve this problem. This device is a transparent vessel, in which single-celled algae grow and which is equipped with light bulbs, a pump and sensors.
Why Chlorella in Space 
Although the photobioreactor can grow various types of algae, the project 435nm has selected chlorella. Like other plants, in the light it produces oxygen necessary for breathing, and after processing it is suitable for food. In just one and a half to two days, tenacious and unpretentious chlorella doubles in weight.
However, because of this, it's just not so easy to eat and digest: its dense shell does not dissolve in the man’s stomach and intestines. However, chlorella is eaten by fish, which can be grown right onboard a spaceship. Besides, the shell of chlorella cells can be destroyed by means of vacuum, so that nutrients will pour out and will be suitable for food in this form.
Of course, it would be more natural to grow food that is familiar to cosmonauts, such as tomatoes, for example. But the higher plants like tomatoes are impractical during the flight: they require a lot of space and energy, and their roots and stems do not participate in photosynthesis and do not produce oxygen. However, according to Shayenko, photobioreactors with higher plants exist anyway: they are being designed in the Krasnoyarsk Biophysics Institute of the Siberian Branch, RAS jointly with the Chinese Space Agency and the Moscow Institute of Biomedical Problems (MIBP) in cooperation with NASA.
Specialists from MIBP support the 435nm team. "They have been engaged in these matters for 25 years, and that work started almost from the beginning of the space era," - Alexander Shaenko said. 
Over the years, the institute has tested different algae: chlorella, spirulina, closteriosis and others. In the Soviet era, they were grown under six xenon lamps with the capacity of 6 kW each - 100 times more powerful than the room ones and those that are in the photobioreactor of Shaenko's team.
"Xenon lamps are cool, but they require too much energy and emit very bright white light, which is not really needed for chlorella - it absorbs waves from the blue and red parts of the spectrum only”, - Alexander Shayenko explains. Therefore, low-power colour diodes are installed in the photobioreactor.
“As far as I know, Rocosmos does not carry out such projects and does not give us any money; our project will possibly be useful to someone else in Russia, or maybe abroad," - he hopes.
Why Photobioreactors are Useful for All 
No matter what, photobioreactors are needed on Earth as well. Firstly, you can produce livestock feed with their help: the intestines of the cow will cope with the strong shell of chlorella. "You take cheap fertilizers, electricity and you get amino acids that are very expensive in ready-made form," - Alexander Shayenko explains. And if chlorella is recycled, it is suitable as a food supplement for human beings. Secondly, algae purify sewage. Finally, the third area of ​​application is chemical processing: it is possible to obtain biofuels, lubricants, and even fire-resistant materials from chlorella. If we do cosmic things with an eye for terrestrial technologies, perhaps there is a chance," - the scientist points out. 

Sources: http://tass.ru 

Author: Vera Ivanova

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