MELiSSA Project System

MELiSSA is the acronym of Micro-Ecological Life Support System Alternative, an innovative European Space Agency project which commenced as part of a life support technologies research programme to test the feasibility of a long-term crewed space mission.

With this type of mission it is not possible to include in the launch load all the food and oxygen required for the survival of the crew (for a 1000 day mission to Mars the initial load required would be 30 tonnes). To this end, it necessary to devise a closed ecosystem which recycles urine, organic waste and CO2 which is the product of breathing and affords water, food and oxygen.

The objective of the MELiSSA Project is to achieve the complete recycling of all the chemical compounds in self-sustainable fashion and without any kind of exterior supply. It is a high-level challenge in terms of processes, control, stability, safety and robustness.

One of the most important aspects of the project is the construction of a pilot plant capable of simulating this environment on a small scale which demonstrates the feasibility of the project. The UAB scientists have been working on the construction of the MELiSSA pilot plant since 1995. Since then, the plant has been developed to provide a unique worldwide laboratory designed to achieve complete integration of all the steps of the project.

Recently, the MELiSSA second generation pilot plant started working at UAB. It is there that a "crew" of 40 rats shall form part of a trial for over two years which simulates the living conditions of a scape flight.

The development of the pilot plant has already provided major scientific results (over 220 articles published in renowned magazines, with major technological applications. In Europe, 1.8 million of cubic metres of water are treated every day with technology developed in the MELiSSA project. A biomass sensor developed under the project is already being used in the cava industry. Two spin-off companies were created, one of which commercialises systems to reduce cholesterol based on MELiSSA technology. Furthermore, the technologies developed for the project are applied in the monitoring of the biocontamination of the ATV (Automated Transfer Vehicle) of the ESA and the environmental microbial quality control of the air and water at the International Space Station.

The MELiSSA Project is an international, multidisciplinary collaboration of the following organisations coordinated by ESA: the Nuclear Power Study Centre SCK/CEN (in Mol, Belgium), the VITO technological resarch institute (in Mol, Belgium), the University of Ghent (in Ghent, Belgium), the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (in Barcelona, Spain), the Universisty of Guelph (in Guelph, Canada), the Blaise Pascal University (in Clermont-Ferrand, France) and SHERPA Engineering (in Paris, France). The collaboration is growing as the project develops: over 30 organisations have already contributed to the MELiSSA project. It is a multidisciplinary project in which experts in genomics, proteomics, modelling, microbiology, nutrition, process engineering, biotechnology, systems engineering, automation etc. take part, both from the academic and industrial perspective.

PROCONTROL, in collaboration with the engineering company DE DIETRICH, is making an active contribution as experts in systems engineering and automation.