Life in Space: Algae-Based 3D Printing Ink to Create Habitats & Other Basics

Master’s student Anastasia Prosina recently submitted ‘Algae-Based Printer Ink As the Way to Foster In-Situ Resource Utilization in Habitation Structures ’ to Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture , offering a proposal for building long-term habitats in space, on the Moon or on Mars.

Numerous concepts have been developed for extended life in space, from autonomous construction to the use of realistic materials to a range of challenges requesting innovative ideas. Prosina’s research project focuses on using regolith—often mentioned for use in building 3D printed habitats—but more uniquely, with the addition of algae.

The key to any space habitat is that it must be able to stand up to a brutal climate. Prosina seeks to create materials that will not require ‘intensive mining and sifting.’ Algae can be grown in a lab, eliminating the need for materials mined from a site like Mars, for instance. It can also be used to make a variety of other items, including essentials like clothing.

Materials are a major consideration; however, potential space settlements in an area like Mars are lacking the obvious foundation and infrastructure for basic living. As several researchers have already noted, carrying larger parts to the Moon or to Mars for building a habitat is not realistic in most cases due to the need for cargo space. Materials must already be at the site, or easy to produce upon arrival.

Functional Flow Block Diagram

“Why algae?

“The algae grow by absorbing carbon dioxide and producing starch that can be used as a raw material for bioplastics or binding agents production. Oxygen, which is a discarded product of the process, provides clean air that is vital for Mars colonization,” stated Prosina. “Algae grows in water tanks that may be used for radiation shielding. Furthermore, algae can grow in any type of water and do not require freshwater resources. Eventually, algae consume carbon dioxide and emit oxygen as they grow, so they help reduce the total amount of CO2 in the habitat’s atmosphere.”

‘Massive structures’ can be created, states Prosina, as carbon dioxide can be taken from the atmosphere of Mars and translated to cellulose, which is then turned into biopolymers capable of acting as building materials for large structures. By-products of algae such as oil can also be made into biofuel that could be used to harness energy, fuel rockets and vehicles, and other equipment. Other algae biopolymers can be turned into cellulose, sodium alginate and materials to create furniture, bedding, and other types of necessary textiles that are easily and naturally recycled.

Because water may be in short supply, farming is necessary with conservation—thus, the use of aeroponics is suggested as it may use 95 percent less water. Growing of algae would include experiments in:

  • Waste management
  • Structural printing
  • Extraterrestrial environmental scenarios
  • Radiation resistance

“Waste management comes first as algae is known as water filtration, additionally, it will absorb the nutrients of compost creating a symbiotic relationship with the farm. Structural Printing, which is one of the main algae-based missions are unfeasible as the future long-term habitats will be comprised of an algae regolith mixture,” states Prosina. “This operation will conclude if the algae can maintain integrity in the alien environment, or to ensure the integrity it necessitates supplements. Executing a Carbon Negative and Neutrality of Extraterrestrial Environment scenarios will define how well the algae farm works in conjunction with the interior habitat environment, as well as the effects of the algae in the extraterrestrial environment.

“The last interior executed missions are the Radiation Resistance Absorption Scenarios, which will examine the degradation of solar radiation or enhancement of upon the bioplastic material created from algae that is the 3D printed long-term extraterrestrial habitat.”

Effects of Irradiation on PLA

There are ‘unknowns’ such as:

  • Structural stability of potential habitats
  • Decomposition rate in an extreme space environment
  • Maintenance needs

Prosina states that such challenges should be overcome with further innovations in using bioplastic in the near future.

“The major concerns of the application of algae in situ of time and equipment are negated by the projected economic and radiation longevity of the algae composite habitat. The technology is new, but not unknown,” concluded the author. “To provide a long term off Earth habitat, it will need to utilize in-situ resources that are easily manipulated, and the outcomes are predictable. Algae is the best possible resource to utilize as a structural, object, and textile due to its many innate properties that allow for a multitude of uses.”

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Concept of Operations (ConOps)

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