NASA STTR 2011 Solicitation


PROPOSAL NUMBER: 11-1 T1.01-9899
RESEARCH SUBTOPIC TITLE: Synthetic Biology for Space Exploration
PROPOSAL TITLE: Biomining of regolith simulants for biological in situ resource utilization

NAME: Universal Bio Mining, LLC NAME: SETI Institute
STREET: 665 3rd Street, Suite 250 STREET: 189 Bernardo Ave., Suite 100
CITY: San Francisco CITY: Mountain View
STATE/ZIP: CA  94107 - 1953 STATE/ZIP: CA  94043 - 5203
PHONE: (401) 523-8190 PHONE: (408) 387-3270

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR/PROJECT MANAGER (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
John Cumbers
665 3rd Street, Suite 250
San Francisco, CA 94107 - 1953
(401) 523-8190

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin: 1
End: 3

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT (Limit 2000 characters, approximately 200 words)
The goal of this proposed research is to advance the development of biological in situ resource utilization for NASA's space exploration programs. We plan to build a foundation to use synthetic biology to engineer microorganisms to extract metals from naturally occurring extraterrestrial regolith.

We propose to create a novel growth medium designed to mimic the lunar regolith ice discovered at the south pole of the moon by the LCROSS mission. We will develop a bioleaching column for this simulant to purify metals for consumable production in space. We will characterize known biomining organisms to leach this simulant. Finally we will study the biochemical processes taking place in the leaching of the regolith to be able to improve the metabolism of these organisms in the future.

In addition, will produce a database of organisms involved in biomining on Earth and the geologies and substrates that they have been found on. This database can be used as a tool to find undersampled mine sites that may contain novel organisms suitable for biomining in space.

We then plan to develop a conceptual bioreactor which is designed to extract metals from regolith in space. We will perform a trade study of the mass, productivity, cost and energy requirements of such a bioreactor.

Later phases of the research will involve characterization of the important enzymes involved in biomining in key organisms, adding to the limited existing knowledge of these pathways and leading to creation of a synthetic biological system for efficiently engineering them, which we will use to optimize these organisms for extracting relevant substrates in relevant space-settlement-like conditions. This further research will also include growth on Mars-like simulant regoliths, as well as improvement of the bioreactor model in a series of increasingly durable and realistic prototypes that will undergo both physical and functional testing.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS (Limit 1500 characters, approximately 150 words)
In-situ resource utilization using bioleaching methods to derive metals directly from the local regolith has the potential to provide an excellent source of raw materials for production processes in future settlement projects on the moon, Mars, or asteroids. As biomining organisms are self-replicating machines, they could be transported in small quantities and allowed to reproduce inside an extra-terrestrial bioreactor or other bioleaching site. The proposed investigation is relevant to NASA goals as follows:

Several NASA programs are interested in ISRU options for reducing mission resource requirements by using available in situ resources. This project will also address NASA goals of preparing for human exploration of Mars by designing and implementing a human mission with acceptable cost, risk and performance. Although this phase 1 STTR starts on moon simulants, Mars simulants are proposed as part of the intended phase 2 of our project. Similarly to moon experiments, Martian studies could aid in producing a bioreactor that makes effective use of martian resources, increasing the level of self sufficiency of Mars operations, which will be even more critical as the distance to Mars is far greater than any previously-attempted manned space mission. In NASA's Strategic Plan, the strategic goal no. 1 is to "extend and sustain human activities across the solar system," and we believe that biological ISRU will be an essential component of this.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS (Limit 1500 characters, approximately 150 words)
Bioleaching organisms could potentially provide a relatively hands-off approach to mining extraterrestrial objects for valuable and rare metals, and biomining technology would be especially promising to resource-constrained space-based mining operations. Biomining tools could also be a useful resource for privatized space settlement projects, providing the same raw materials they could in a NASA-based facility.

While biological organisms are used to a significant extent in some terrestrial mining operations, their cellular functions are still relatively poorly-understood both biochemically and genetically. As this proposed research will contribute to the understanding of certain organisms used in biomining, it will add to the current state of knowledge surrounding these organisms, and be especially useful in developing technologies for mining on terrestrial substrates similar to the extra-terrestrial regoliths studied.

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING (NASA's technology taxonomy has been developed by the SBIR-STTR program to disseminate awareness of proposed and awarded R/R&D in the agency. It is a listing of over 100 technologies, sorted into broad categories, of interest to NASA.)
Biomass Growth
In Situ Manufacturing
Processing Methods
Resource Extraction

Form Generated on 11-22-11 13:44