Space Station Experiment

The Space Station Experiment

It is a biomining trial on the extraction of REEs (rare earth experiment) in Mars Gravity and Microgravity. REEs refer to the last set of fifteen lanthanides located at the end of the periodical table (including scandium and yttrium) and often found in electrical devices such as wind turbines, electric cars, hard drives and other equipment.

The experiment was carried out to run specific hypotheses on the process of biomining REEs’ through testing. The bioleaching process was conducted on a basaltic rock in microgravity and Mars gravity using three microorganisms and a reactor designed particularly for the purpose.

Sphingomonas Desiccabilis

This microbe ensures an efficient concentration of REEs than what is promised of biological controls in all conditions concerning gravity. Although placed under different gravity conditions, no significant difference was recorded.

Bacillus Subtilis

This microbe reveals a decline in the efficacy of bioleaching.

Cupriavidus Metallidurans

This microorganism does not operate differently from non-biological controls but shows specific effects on the earth.

Microbes are beneficial in various natural processes, such as weathering and recycling of waste and integral to manufacturing industries. More importantly, they are utilised in biomining processes. They are used to oxidise metals and then allow them to dissolve in liquid.

The experiment reveals the benefits of microbes in biotechnology development which include:

  • Reduction in the level of toxicity in the environment
  • Decontamination of pollutants
  • Safe method of application

The experiment reveals the possibilities for undergoing biomining procedures in space and underlying doctrines of a reactor to further biomining activities in space and other planets. The experiment also shows the relation between microorganisms and minerals and how they have impacted the earth. One can apply the results of such interaction to soil formation from malnourished rocks

  • Use of regolith in microbial sections of life support systems as a feedstock
  • The biocrusts formation used to control dust.
  • Use of regolith in biofuel processes
  • Biologically produced mineral materials used for construction

In Space station or other extra-terrestrial places, observation is more necessary for how microorganisms relate and affect mineral resources such as rock materials and whether it changes ion mining and ore degradation under different gravity conditions. Some levels of gravity used for the above experiment are simulated Mars, microgravity and terrestrial gravity.

Usually, gravity influences the interaction of nutrients and waste. Microgravity has excellent effects on the growth of microbes and metabolic procedures. It is because it permits heat convection and sedimentation.

In 2019, an organisation known by the name European Space Agency conducted a laudable Biorock experiment in ISS (International Space Station). They investigated the mining of minerals from basalt, which serves as a reference point for the above investigation.

The experiment results on REEs leaching in outer space using three microorganisms and a space mining reactor increased the chances of extending biomining activities to outside of earth. In the experiment, researchers put the microorganisms (Sphingomonas desiccabilis, Bacillus Subtilis and Cupriavidus metallidurans) in solution gotten from leaching REEs under different gravity conditions (simulated Mars, microgravity and terrestrial gravity) and set for controls that are not biological.

The concentration result is that the element with the highest abundance in basaltic rock shows the highest concentrations. Hence, the concentration level is determined by the level of abundance in minerals.