MELISSA: Overview of the Project and Perspectives 2005-01-3066
The MELISSA (Micro-Ecological Life Support Alternative) project was initiated in 1989. The recycling system is conceived as a micro-organisms and higher plants based ecosystem. As a matter of fact, it is intended as a tool to gain understanding of closed life support, as well as the development of the technology for a future life support system for long term manned space missions, e.g. a lunar base or a mission to Mars.
The collaboration was established through a Memorandum of Understanding and is managed by ESA. It involves several independent organisations: University of Ghent, EPAS, SCK, VITO (B), University of Clermont Ferrand, SHERPA (F), University “Autonoma” of Barcelona (E), University of Guelph (CND). It is co-funded by ESA, the MELISSA partners, the Belgian (DWTC), the Spanish (CIRIT and CICYT) and Canadian (CRESTech, CSA) authorities. The driving element of MELISSA is the production of food water and oxygen from organic waste (inedible biomass, CO2, faeces, urea). Based on the principle of an “aquatic” ecosystem, MELISSA process comprises 5 compartments from the anoxygenic fermenter up to the photosynthetic one (algae and higher plants). The choice of this compartmentalised structure is required by the very high level of safety requirements and justified by the need of an engineering approach and to build deterministic control strategy.
During the past 15 years of research and development, a very progressive approach has been developed to understand and control the MELISSA loop. This approach starts from the selection of the microbial strains and higher plant crops, their characterisation and mathematical modelling, the validation of the control strategy, up to the demonstration on Earth, at pilot scale.
The project is organised in 5 phases: Basic R&D, Preliminary flight experiment, Ground & space demonstration, Terrestrial transfer, Education & communication.