Towards a Biomanufactory on Mars

Nov 11, 2021, 4:00 pm5:00 pm
Louis A. Simpson International Building - Room A71
Event Description

Inspired in part by the new measurements and imagery from the Perseverance mission, there is reinvigorated public interest in achieving a crewed mission to Mars in the 2030s. To realize such missions, we must solve multiple science and engineering challenges as described by NASA's Space Technology Grand Challenges for expanding human presence in space as they relate to Space Systems Bioengineering (SSB). These challenges include advancing technologies to support the nutritional, medical, and incidental material requirements that will sustain astronauts against the harsh conditions of interplanetary transit and habitation on the surface of an inhospitable alien world. Advanced biotechnologies that support flexible biomanufacturing from in situ resources can provide a mass, power, and volume advantage compared to traditional physicochemical strategies. Biomanufacturing will also provide alternative routes to on-demand production of a sufficiently diverse set of chemistries that meet the unexpected needs of astronauts. This reduces the diversity and overall mass of goods required to be brought on each mission. However, critical bottlenecks remain that must be overcome to ensure Martian-based biomanufacturing will be practical and robust. We present a roadmap to address these bottlenecks by aligning the research, design, and testing necessary for deploying a biomanufactory during long-term missions in the 2040s. Our analysis suggests that the endeavor becomes far more efficient when bioprocess components are linked together into an integrated biomanufactory. The resultant cooperativity in the design provides direct mechanical linkage of processes, uses compatible organisms and media, and maximizes recycling and utility of byproducts. We contend that integrated SSB is a necessary field to develop alongside individual space technological efforts.

The available literature often focuses on short-term exploration missions of ~30-day surface operations, instead of the more probable, longer-term missions spanning ~500 days of on-planet operations. A critical aspect of these longer duration missions is determining the food, medicine, and materials requirements that are necessary to support the targeted concept-of-operations. We formalize the mathematical framework for modeling a biomanufacturing system to develop the resources for sustaining a human exploration mission on the surface of Mars. We established mission goals, extended the Equivalent System Mass framework for a comparison of missions, developed the framework for modeling a Martian resource inventory in terms of supplies produced via in-situ processes and transported from Earth, and developed the framework required to sustain a human crew. Using this collection of frameworks, we implement and integrate process models spanning in situ solar power production through crop cultivation models for food consumption and pharmaceutical synthesis for astronauts. The proposed architecture provides a logistical roadmap and quantitative measures of efficacy for on-planet biomanufacturing in support of a manned Mars mission. Addressing the technical hurdles to support a late 2030s mission will require specific investment in our understanding of space biomanufacturing, and rigorous testing of increasingly space-like environments as they become available. In addition to Earth-based research and development, we outline how critical elements of a biomanufactory can be tested and de-risked in coordination with known space station testbeds, satellite programs, Mars-bound rover platforms, and the upcoming Artemis program for revisiting the Moon. We call for a concerted effort to ensure the timely development of SSB to support long-term crewed missions, which can also benefit Earth-based sustainable biomanufacturing.