Biomining and methanogenesis for resource extraction from asteroids
As spacecraft fuel is a limited resource, creating a readily available source for hydrocarbon-based fuels in space will reduce launch cost and increase operating time of spacecraft. Biomethanation is viable for Earth-based operations, thus applications in space under controlled conditions have potential. This study proposes a sustainable environment for methanogens on Near-Earth Objects. Vacuum and desiccation effects, at 0.025% Earth atmospheric pressure, are conducted on three bacterial and three Archaea strains to test post-exposure viability. Cell degradation and colony size reduction was quantified for aerobic strains. Adverse effects were exhibited more so in gram-negative than gram-positive strains. Archaea showed limited to no cell degradation, providing evidence that vacuum effects, at these pressures, will have minor effects on in-situ biofuel operations. If successful, a sustainable and cost-effective method of metal extraction and producing methane based fuel reservoirs could revolutionise in-situ resource and fuel resupply of spacecraft, thus enhancing spacefaring capabilities.