UK biomining experiment back home after demonstration on board the ISS

experimental hardware developed by Kayser Space for the successful ESA BIOROCK mission, BioAsteroid was launched to the International Space Station (ISS) on board SpaceX 21 on 6 December 2020. The automatic culturing devices have been incubated in the KUBIK ISS facility for three weeks, where the bacteria grew on a substrate of biocompatible meteoritic material. The capsule splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean on 14 January 2021.

BioAsteroid is a biomining experiment developed by University of Edinburgh, with Kayser Space providing its implementation in space. The experiment investigates the effects of altered gravity in the interaction between microbes and rocks. Funded entirely by the University, it is the first European experiment to be fast-tracked to the ISS with Bioreactor Express, a new commercial service offered by Kayser for deploying experimental payloads in microgravity.

Sphingomonas desiccabilis and Penicillium simplicissimum are microbes that when placed in a liquid medium, are able to ‘feed’ from the rock surface extracting ions, which causes its breakdown to form soils or release economically interesting elements in ‘biomining’.

Prof. Charles Cockell, University of Edinburgh, said: “By studying biofilm formation of these organisms on the asteroidal material in microgravity, BioAsteroid investigates how space conditions ultimately affect microbe-mineral interactions, addressing questions on the biochemistry of the organisms, biofilm morphology and structure, fungal attachment and the ability of the microbes to breakdown rock, a key process for the future use of microorganisms in space exploration, including the mining of asteroids.”

David Zolesi, Kayser Space Managing Director, added: “The project started in September 2019. Executing the entire BioAsteroid project in less than 18 months, including the return of the samples from space, the UK has positioned itself at the forefront of two activities that will define the future of the commercial exploitation of space: asteroid mining and fast-track access to microgravity.”

The scientific hardware is currently travelling home to the University of Edinburgh for further study.

Bioreactor Express is an initiative for the commercial exploitation of the ISS, in partnership with the European Space Agency and with the programmatic support of the UK Space Agency.

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