A lot of stuff happened since the last update on this project. New ideas, new reactions, new everything.
First things first, for the sake of saving resources, time and money, the space station will be the form of a torus (basically a space donut). I’m still not done with the outside layer, but the inside has been carefully planned out.
The station will be divided into 24 exact modules, each with it’s own assignment (living quarters, laboratories, greenhouses, etc). Some, such as laboratories for example will be assigned more than one module. There will also one or two modules dedicated to entertainment, as you can get bored pretty quickly after 1-2 months, and even go insane if you stay more than one year.
Now, the resources.
There is an interesting substance called Potassium Superoxide (KO2). The interesting part is that by mixing CO2 with KO2 you can obtain K2CO3 (which I’ll talk about later) and O2, the source of life (one of them at least). This is the basic principle of re-oxygenators. The only problem with this system is that KO2 is both rare and heavy. The volume of this torus if of about 79 million liters, which means about 16 million liters of oxygen and 63 million liters of nitrogen. Nitrogen isn’t that important, as it is not consumed by the human body or anything else. With some simple math and chemistry, we can figure out that we need 31 tons of KO2 to sustain a crew of 20 people for a year.
Now, a basic human needs 550 liters of oxygen per day, so 27500 liters for 20 people per day. The composition of air that humans exhale is 15% oxygen that can be reused and 6% carbon dioxide, of which some will be used in the reoxygenation process, but there is an excess left. Very fortunately for us, mixing CO2 with hydrogen at a temperature of 200 degrees Celsius gives us CH4 (methane) and H2O, water, the main source of life. And hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find.
I think we all know what H2O is used for. In our space station, for drinking and the green house mainly.
We also get methane, which is a gas used to produce heat on Earth. In space though, we can get rocket fuel by mixing methane and liquid oxygen (which we can easily make, considering that we have an abundance of CO2. So now our space station can become mobile and also be used as a sort of fuel station on the orbit of Earth.
I’ve also said that I’ll talk about K2CO3 later. K2CO3 is a salt that decomposes
at 1200 degrees Celsius into CO2 (yay, more stuff produce oxygen and water!), and K2O (potassium oxide).
Potassium oxide has the property of being a great fertilizer, so another greenhouse problem solved for now.
Now, food. This one will be the hardest to create. We can of course bring canned food at the beginning of the mission, but it’s gonna end some day. And the point of this station is to be self-sustainable (at least as much as it can be). Here comes the Martian. If you have watched the movie, you know that potatoes can be a great source of proteins and nutrients, and can keep a person alive for a intermediate period of time. You can’t live only on potatoes, you need eat something else at least once per week, but growing potatoes in our greenhouse can be a great source of food for long periods of time, if mixed with the right ingredients. And of course, there won’t be only potatoes. One of the scientific objectives of the station would be monitoring the growth of different vegetables and fruits in space, which makes it better for our astronauts’ stomachs.
And I’ve talked a lot about heat and electricity. There will of course be a nuclear reactor to provide this, as there isn’t really a better source to create energy in space.
The point of this space station is to be self-sustainable, for as long as possible. Right now, it almost is, with the exception of oxygen and potassium superoxide, which is the only thing that has to be brought in regularly. But even with that, the people on the station can live on their own for 2 years without external contact, until the oxygen runs out, and also excluding any technical problems.
There is a competition next week, and this space station is our team’s project for it. Wish us luck!