Modeling Separate and Combined Atmospheres in BIO-Plex 2001-01-2361
We modeled BIO-Plex designs with separate or combined atmospheres and then simulated controlling the atmosphere composition. The BIO-Plex is the Bioregenerative Planetary Life Support Systems Test Complex, a large regenerative life support test facility under development at NASA Johnson Space Center.
Although plants grow better at above-normal carbon dioxide levels, humans can tolerate even higher carbon dioxide levels. Incinerator exhaust has very high levels of carbon dioxide. An elaborate BIO-Plex design would maintain different atmospheres in the crew and plant chambers and isolate the incinerator exhaust in the airlock. This design option easily controls the crew and plant carbon dioxide levels but it uses many gas processors, buffers, and controllers.
If all the crew’s food is grown inside BIO-Plex, all the carbon dioxide required by the plants can be supplied by crew respiration and the incineration of plant and food waste. Because the oxygen mass flow must balance in a closed loop, the plants supply all the oxygen required by the crew and the incinerator. Using plants for air revitalization allows using fewer gas processors, buffers, and controllers.
In the simplest design, a single combined atmosphere was used for the crew, the plant chamber, and the incinerator. All gas processors, buffers, and controllers were eliminated. The carbon dioxide levels were necessarily similar for the crew and plants. If most of the food is grown, carbon dioxide can be controlled at the desired level by scheduling incineration.
An intermediate design uses one atmosphere for the crew and incinerator chambers and a second for the plant chamber. This allows different carbon dioxide levels for the crew and plants. Better control of the atmosphere is obtained by varying the incineration rate. Less gas processing, storage, and control is needed if more food is grown.
Using plants for air revitalization allows reducing physicochemical processing, buffering, and control. Tests of optimized one or two atmosphere designs would be significant missions for BIO-Plex.