Credit: E|A|S (Evolving Asteroid Starships)/Joris Putteneers
Dr. Angelo Vermeulen, a space systems researcher at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, is known for his groundbreaking work in interstellar exploration and bioregenerative life support systems. In addition to his scientific pursuits, Dr. Vermeulen is also an accomplished artist and co-founder of the SEADS collective, which integrates concepts and technologies from various scientific disciplines into artwork. Recently, Dr. Vermeulen and his co-authors published an article in Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences, outlining a new model that can sustain long-duration space missions without the need for resupply from Earth. We caught up with him to learn more about his research and the importance of sustainable space travel.
Q: What inspired you to become a researcher?
A: Science and exploration have always fascinated me since I was a child. At a young age, I knew I wanted to be a biologist and even built my own mini laboratory. I delved into biology and space exploration, which eventually became the focus of my research at TU Delft. Alongside my scientific interests, I also developed a deep passion for the arts, particularly photography, cinema, and literature. During my biology Ph.D., I attended art school and explored different mediums, ultimately merging my scientific research with artistic creation.
Credit: E|A|S (Evolving Asteroid Starships)/Arise Wan
Q: Can you tell us about the research you’re currently working on?
A: Currently, I am collaborating with others to develop computer models for interstellar human exploration. Our goal is to create crewed spacecraft capable of traveling in deep space for multiple decades without the need for resupply. We are exploring the architecture and requirements of such systems, with a focus on integrating bioregenerative life support systems (BLSS). These systems, originally imagined by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, utilize plants and microorganisms to sustain astronauts by recycling waste and producing oxygen and food. Our research involves an agent-based model (ABM) of the MELiSSA loop, ESA’s BLSS concept. Through the ABM, we simulate the interactions of individual agents within the system to understand their collective behavior and ensure all crew needs are met autonomously.
Q: Why is your research important?
A: Our research on closed-loop systems has implications beyond space travel; it has the potential to revolutionize sustainability on Earth. By adopting a molecular sustainability approach, we can minimize waste and create a circular economy. The benefits extend to both the environment and resource management. Additionally, our work in space exploration provides valuable insights into managing Earth’s climate and resources. The interconnectedness of life on Earth and in space should not be seen as contradictory but as complementary. Going into space allows us to see the beauty and fragility of our planet, fostering a greater understanding of the need for environmental stewardship.
Q: Are there any common misconceptions about this area of research?
A: One common misconception I encounter is the notion that space exploration competes with efforts to combat climate change on Earth. However, space exploration has played a vital role in monitoring and understanding climate change through Earth observation satellites. Space technology is crucial for managing and safeguarding our planet’s future. The pursuit of space and addressing environmental challenges are not mutually exclusive; they are interdependent. Additionally, the profound experience of space travel often reinforces our sense of responsibility and appreciation for Earth’s uniqueness.
Q: What areas of research would you like to see tackled in the future?
A: Moving forward, I believe multi-modeling is a crucial area of research. By linking different types of models together, we can gain a more comprehensive understanding of the complex questions we are investigating. Combining our ABM with our self-replicating space architecture model would be a significant step towards creating a comprehensive virtual workbench. Furthermore, we need to prioritize the application of closed-loop and bioregenerative systems on Earth. Addressing the issue of food waste, in particular, is of utmost importance given its detrimental impact on food security and the environment. Adopting a mindset focused on molecular sustainability will be crucial in solving this problem. Lastly, we should strive for a more collaborative and equitable approach to space exploration, driven by a shared purpose rather than political motivations or competition.
Q: How has open science benefited your research?
A: Open science is instrumental in fostering a globally informed society. As someone who collaborates with individuals from various fields, both within and outside academia, it is essential that my work is accessible to everyone. Embracing open science accelerates the advancement of knowledge and promotes collaboration and imagination. By breaking down barriers and sharing findings openly, we can collectively push the boundaries of innovation and inspiration.
This article is based on the research conducted by Dr. Angelo Vermeulen and his colleagues at TU Delft. For more information, refer to their publication in Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences.
Citation: Angelo C. J. Vermeulen et al, Stoichiometric model of a fully closed bioregenerative life support system for autonomous long-duration space missions, Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences (2023). DOI: 10.3389/fspas.2023.1198689
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