Closed Ecological Life Support Systems

CELSS is the quest of the NASA program for life support on long range space missions and the goal is to regenerate all essential needs of the astronaut by a creating closed, regenerative systems that function sustainably and continuously, without any need to "resupply" and without any losses - meaning no pollution or waste is produced. The input to this cycle is energy in the form of sunlight. The space program determined that this goal was technically feasible using complete ecological process - the whole system is a complex interaction and the design requires that life science leads the engineering and design concepts. Therefore the technology is an example of Biomimicry Technology.

The requirement for closed systems design is a natural opportunity for Sola Roof technology since, with our Liquid Solar process for cooling, a Sola Roof operates without ventilation and condenses the plant transpired moisture from the closed atmosphere. CO 2 is also contained and is metabolized by algae and plant growth. For the first time in history our PODnet products will provide such closed atmosphere, regenerative systems as a standard operating system. The fusion of these advanced concepts with Architecture we call this Ecomimicry Architecture.

The Sola Roof Coop solutions for Sustainable Living are now becoming available as products, where the complex systems and relationships of the life process are integrated in our POD Kit product. The first stage of release of this operating system is the F 2 W 2 F system that is a result of a collaborative development effort by the Eco Innovation Consortium.


The answers that we have from the CELSS program of NASA are absolutely encouraging and therefore "at odds with" the trends towards crisis that we see in the world - and be assured that these are not "ivory tower thoughts and utopian dreams" - these are hard science and technologies that are substantially “reduced to practice”. Some may also look at the Biosphere 2 Experiment and the programs of the national Space Programs and conclude that CELSS solutions are extremely costly, however our Open Source community is determined to "hack" the solution, building on the the low-cost, low-energy Sola Roof technology as a platform. While the "science programs" are substantially focused on the "agribusiness" crops, especially grain and soy, our lifePOD solution is the answer to enable humanity to rapidly transition to a grain free, fossil energy free, land and water consumption free lifestyle. We are co-creating the lifePOD for food security from the backyard and the schoolyard with design that is accessible, affordable for every family/community and adaptable to any culture and climate. Our investment in the PODnet Plan ends the debate about “sustainability” and moves humanity into an era where “the new WE” are empowered to thrive together with all the diversity of life on our common home, our mother earth. Perhaps it is no accident that as we learn to live and to love our life on earth, that in the same leap of evolution, humanity is ready to inhabit space: “on earth as it is in heaven”.

I have extracted (without any editing), AND QUOTED VERBATIM below, the text from the document that I would refer you to as an "authoritative" introduction to CELSS, to create a summary, which I invite you to read below:

TITLE: Closed Ecological Systems, Space Life Support and Biospherics AUTHORS: Mark Nelson, Nickolay S. Pechurkin, John P. Allen, Lydia A Somova, and Josef I. Gitelson

The needs of the current stage of development of civilization in the field of biospherics:

  1. To create working models of the Earth’s biosphere and its ecosystems and thus to better under- stand the regularities and laws that control its life. This is especially important because the Earth’s biosphere is presently under ecological stress on a global scale.
  2. To create artificial biospheres for human life support beyond the limits of the Earth’s biosphere. These are essential for permanent human presence in space.
  3. To create ground-based life-support systems that provide high quality of life in extreme conditions of the Earth’s biosphere, such as polar latitudes, deserts, mountains, underwater, etc.
  4. The use of artificial ecological systems offers the prospect of developing technologies for the solution of pollution problem in our urban areas and for developing high yield sustainable agriculture.

The increased awareness of the ecological challenges facing humanity has led to a dramatically changed perspective of how we should regard our global biosphere. These perspectives and the focus on sustainable ways of living on the Earth have direct parallels with the challenges of developing closed ecological systems and bioregenerative life support technologies for space applications. In closed ecological systems, the emphasis is on recycle and reuse and not on the supply of new life support essentials. Research with materially closed ecosystems can thus help with the paradigm change from the destructive behaviors associated with the mindset of “unlimited resources” to that of conserving, recycling, and sustainably operating.

Technology capable of providing life support resources (food, air, water) that use bio- logical mechanisms, even if enhanced and supported by other technology, may be termed “bioregenerative technology.” Examples are plant growth chambers in which a particular crop is grown that regenerates part of its atmosphere, purifies some quantity of water through transpiration, and produces food; or a wastewater processing unit in which aquatic plants and microbes digest sewage or graywater, producing biomass/edible crops as well as air and water regeneration. Bioregenerative technologies are crucial components of both CELSS and closed ecological life support systems.

A life support system that approaches complete internal sustainability and which is biologically-based is termed a closed ecological system, meaning that it is essentially mate- rially closed, energetically and informationally open, and recycling its major elements and nutrients. Both the CELSS and Closed Ecological Systems have generally included just a few species of plants and/or algae as their biological component, in addition to the crew compartments and associated mechanical/computer operational technologies. Energetically, such a system must be open or it would decline due to increasing entropy. The light needed for photosynthesis is supplied by artificial lights or by sunlight, direct or delivered through light pipes. A heat sink on the outside receives surplus heat from the system.

The Controlled Environmental Life Support System (CELSS) program was initiated in 1978 by NASA. Three NASA centers were primarily involved: The Kennedy Space Center where the “Breadboard” provided a test bed for plant cultivation experiments in a closed ecological system; the Johnson Space Center focused on food processing and human diets in space, and the Ames Research Center connected with basic research in system controls. Earlier, laboratory experiments with biological regenerative systems were based on mono- cultures of unicellular organisms, either photosynthetic (Chlorella) or chemosynthetic ones (Hydrogenomonas). They were not successful in that the systems used did not attain a stable, steady state and could not provide a significant portion of human nutritional needs. That is why NASA and its associated university researchers decided to include traditional agricultural crops, higher plants, as the core element in their bioregenerative life support systems.

Unlike unicellular organisms (algae or bacteria), higher plants are easily digested and are custom- ary sources of human food. Extensive literature on terrestrial (i.e., not in a closed environment or in microgravity) human nutritional needs and higher plant composition exists and forms a starting point for designing such systems. Higher plants can purify water through the process of transpiration. Transpiration is the method whereby plants utilize the passage of water to achieve evaporative cooling. This has been estimated at about 300 g of water evaporated for every gram of CO 2 fixed in photosynthesis. Such water can be condensed from the atmosphere of a closed system. Higher plants also have the capability of processing waste materials from the crew members and other heterotrophs in the system.

It was shown (Utah State University experiments) that a plant growth area of 13 m2 of high productivity dwarf wheat can provide the entire caloric requirements (but not all of the nutritional essentials) for one human, can absorb the metabolic carbon dioxide produced by this human and produce enough oxygen to allow the human to oxidize the calories contained in the wheat biomass. In 1986, the Breadboard Project was begun at Kennedy Space Center and active experimentation continued for over a decade. The Breadboard Project had as its goal the demonstration of the scaling-up from previous laboratory-sized research study into the production of food for human life support, water recycling, and atmospheric gas control in its biomass production chamber. The configuration of growing areas inside yields a total plant area of 20m2. Air turnover in the BPC is about three times a minute, with ventilation air being ducted at the rate of 0.5m3/s into the chamber between lights and growing trays. Many years of experimentation involved many of the prime candidate food crops for space life support, along with analysis of atmospheric dynamics inside the closed system.

After harvesting, the wheat was provided to the crew in the form of flour to use in baking bread. Overall, the test successfully demonstrated that biological systems can be integrated as part of a regenerative life support system. The use of plants to provide air revitalization while providing food for the crew and use of microbes to purify the wastewater were successfully demonstrated.

[then follows review and discussion of several national research programs: Biosphere Design: Lessons from the Biosphere 2 Experiment (AZ, USA) | Experimental Facilities of IBMP (Moscow) | Experiments with Bios-3 (Institute of Biophysics, Krasnoyarsk) | The Closed Equilibrated Biological Aquatic System (C.E.B.A.S.) at Ruhr-University of Bochum (RUB) | The ME Li SSA? (Micro-Ecological Life Support System Alternative) Project (European Space Agency) | Closed Ecology Experiment Facilities? (CEEF) at the Institute of Environmental Sciences facility on the Island of Honshu in Rokkasho, Japan]

All of these unique facilities have a common fundamental goal – to model the biosphere – and a common practical objective – to create closed human life support systems. It is very complicated and costly both to construct these facilities and to use them for experiments. Since this work is important for humanity as a whole, it is necessary to coordinate the experiments at the preparatory stages and while analyzing the results, following the example of atomic physicists cooperating in using the few nuclear-particle accelerators existing in the world. The importance of the work on creation of artificial closed ecosystems for humanity as a whole and the complexity and high cost of experiments – all make further international cooperation in this field of knowledge imperative.

International cooperation in space is also valuable as a way of aligning all people of the Earth and inspiring them with our shared, grander historic and evolutionary challenges. The strategy of “evolutionary expansion” into space as opposed to space spectacu- lars with no infrastructural increase (known as “footprints and flags”) is beginning to dominate space exploration planning. This far-reaching space agenda requires, and is producing, a shift in life support away from the type of technologies that were developed for the sprint missions to the Moon or for short duration spaceflights. It is now becoming clear that bioregenerative life support is one of the chief technologies that can make possible our long-term future in space. It will be a huge undertaking to translate ground-based test bed work into plausible space-based systems. Living in space will also require better understanding of radiation hazards and defenses, measures to deal with microgravity and reduced gravitational effects on living systems, and the ability to utilize extraterrestrial materials. But, what is becoming clear to space planners and the public alike is that bioregenerative life support systems are the key to be able to live in space.

The opportunity and challenge for those working on bioregenerative technologies, CELSS and closed ecological systems for space life support is starkly underscored by their necessity to achieve successful recycling and stability of their systems in volumes far smaller than those of Earth’s natural ecosystems, and with vastly accelerated cycling times. This means that there is enormous necessity for intelligent design to make small closed ecological systems function properly. In the coming decades, the opportunity exists for this work to become ever more relevant to the parallel efforts to understand the Earth’s biosphere and to transform the human endeavor to a sustainable basis. We live in a virtually materially closed ecological system on Earth – and to live long-term in space, we will need to create new closed ecological systems. Learning to sustain, recycle and harmoniously live within our world(s) is the overriding challenge we face both on Earth, and if we are to live in space, whether in space stations or on lunar and planetary surfaces. The stakes are huge: We must learn from both efforts to prosper and evolve.