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DARPA B-SURE developing Biomanufacturing in Space for DoD orbital and lunar missions

The DoD has a role in orbital and lunar missions as defined by the US Space Force (USSF) Space Capstone Publication1. In this document, USSF notes the “inherent value of the space domain and the tremendous influence space has on U.S. prosperity and security.”

 

There is a critical DoD need for the continued development and future expansion of orbital manufacturing to enable and ensure supply chain resiliency, sustained technological superiority, and asset security and repair for current and future operations. To meet this unique challenge, DARPA announced in Nov 2021 that it was taking an initial step to explore and de-risk manufacturing capabilities that leverage biological processes in resource-limited environments with its Biomanufacturing: Survival, Utility, and Reliability beyond Earth (B-SURE) program.

 

Imagine you are going to space. There is a long list of items and supplies you will definitely need, but there is an even longer list of things you might need, depending on how your mission progresses. This includes unforeseen needs like fuel for unexpected maneuvering, replacement parts or tools, and a wide range of other products that could be useful, but may not be utilized. The current paradigm in space is to pack everything you might possibly need, but this approach is complex and logistically burdensome.

 

Imagine instead that you pack only fermentation equipment, feedstocks, and a freezer full of microbes that each convert the feedstock into a different useful molecule, material, or product so you have everything you might need and can produce it on demand. This is the eventual goal of space biomanufacturing; bring the microbes and equipment you need to manufacture a wide range of raw materials or products that become critical during the course of the mission.

 

Biomanufacturing offers a novel approach for in-situ manufacturing in far-forward locations, including space. While biomanufacturing has the potential to provide DoD-relevant molecules and materials and alleviate supply chain burdens associated with space operations, realizing this capability requires fundamental, investigational research to inform future applied research efforts. To accomplish this goal, B-SURE will collect data on the microbial utilization of space-based alternative feedstocks, optimization of microbial growth in variable gravities, and mitigation strategies for identified effects of galactic cosmic radiation on microbial growth and bioproduction.

 

“DoD currently has no space-based manufacturing capability. All resources or equipment needed for a given mission are manufactured on Earth and shipped to space,” stated Dr. Anne Cheever, B-SURE program manager. “The B-SURE program is an important first step in addressing fundamental biomanufacturing questions to develop this capability.”

 

B-SURE performers will have the opportunity to engage with U.S. Government and DoD stakeholders, as well as appropriate regulatory authorities. Teams are also expected to collaborate with ethical, legal, societal implications (ELSI) experts.

 

“The B-SURE program is a fundamental study that will explore adapting microbes to space conditions. As a proof of concept, the microbes will produce reporter molecules with the hope that eventually this technology will enable in-space production of molecules relevant to space flight,” added Cheever.

 

Program Overview

The physical properties of spaceflight are unique, making it critical that the survival and reliability
of microbial strains in the context of a potential in-space biomanufacturing capability are fully
understood. B-SURE will evaluate how variable gravity and GCR impact biomanufacturing
microbial host strains.

 

Microgravity and GCR are two of the most significant differences between conditions in spaceflight and conditions on Earth, both of which have unpredictable effects on a given microbe and its engineered metabolism. Additionally, the levels of gravity and GCR vary tremendously depending on the location in space, requiring evaluation of microbial strains at multiple relevant gravitational and radiation levels.

 

For example, the International Space Station (ISS) is partially shielded by the Earth’s magnetic field and receives less GCR than a similar hypothetical facility in cislunar orbit. Spaceflight analogs (such as high-altitude balloons or the ISS National Laboratory), microgravity analogs (such as a clinostat or rotating wall vessel ii), and/or radiation analogs (such as the NASA space radiation laboratory at Brookhaven National Lab) are examples of facilities capable of testing and demonstrating microbial host strain capabilities for molecule production in spaceflight-like conditions.

 

The 18-month effort involves three tracks to meet program goals.

  • Track 1 “Alternative Feedstock Utilization” will determine which alternative feedstocks can be consumed by host organisms and at what quantity and purity levels.
  • Track 2 “Variable Gravity” will identify the impact of variable gravity on cellular performance in the context of biomanufacturing parameters and how terrestrial analogs predict on-orbit molecule production.
  • Track 3 “Variable Radiation” will discover the effects of variable radiation on microbial molecule production.

 

To address the key biological questions for each track, proposers must use both Saccharomyces
cerevisiae and Escherichia coli as microbial host organisms, as well as at least one other organism
based on selected track (track and additional host organism selected at the discretion of the
proposer). As a proxy for the biomanufacturing productivity of the organism under non-terrestrial
conditions, each host organism will be modified to produce a simple quantifiable protein or small
molecule reporter such as green fluorescent protein or violacein. B-SURE is focused on generating
foundational data for the future of biomanufacturing beyond Earth. To this end, proposers are encouraged to select commonly used and industrially relevant host organisms; however any host
organisms that achieve relevant program metrics are allowed.

 

Proposals should address foundational biological questions to expand the potential for future
biomanufacturing applications. Biological and predictive modeling questions are designed to
inform the three fundamental areas, and performers will pursue individual tracks to address each
challenge independently.

 

Performers investigating alternative feedstock consumption will define minimal energy, nutrient, and purity requirements, as well as profile the metabolic conversion of these inputs to their cellular usage. Investigation into cellular growth and performance in variable gravity and high radiation environments will help understand the impact of these conditions on the industrially relevant strains S. cerevisiae and E. coli, in addition to other microbes. Finally, the  performers will develop new models for the space economy to determine under what circumstances biomanufacturing would compete with (economically, logistically, etc.) or exceed traditional manufacturing practices on future spaceflight missions.

The utilization of alternative feedstocks (AF), working toward the goal of complete In-Situ
Resource Utilization (ISRU), is a critical advantage that biological systems offer over traditional
chemical or additive manufacturing and will be important for space manufacturing where
resources are at a premium. Resources produced by humans and human activity that are generally considered waste (e.g., CO2, black and grey water, food waste, and biodegradable plastics), and local resources such as sunlight and regolith, could be used by microbial systems to
derive energy for production.

 

Waste streams from the fermentation processes themselves can become important local resources. Recycling of fermentation byproducts (even partially) such as broth for subsequent runs and utilizing spent biomass as a nutrient source would be another important way to reduce waste that is generated locally, as well as reduce the amount of launched resources required for space-based biomanufacturing. B-SURE aims to understand how much and at what purity level a locally available feedstock could be consumed to minimize resupply and maximize supply chain resiliency, even if microbial strains continue to use a percentage of traditional feedstocks in combination with alternative feedstocks. In addition to the above alternative feedstock examples, there may be additional resources that can be explored and justified toward a future goal of total ISRU platforms in space.

The physical properties of spaceflight are unique, making it critical that the survival and reliability
of microbial strains in the context of a potential in-space biomanufacturing capability are fully
understood. B-SURE will evaluate how variable gravity and GCR impact biomanufacturing
microbial host strains. Microgravity and GCR are two of the most significant differences between
conditions in spaceflight and conditions on Earth, both of which have unpredictable effects on a
given microbe and its engineered metabolism. Additionally, the levels of gravity and GCR vary
tremendously depending on the location in space, requiring evaluation of microbial strains at
multiple relevant gravitational and radiation levels. For example, the International Space Station
(ISS) is partially shielded by the Earth’s magnetic field and receives less GCR than a similar
hypothetical facility in cislunar orbit. Spaceflight analogs (such as high-altitude balloons or the
ISS National Laboratory), microgravity analogs (such as a clinostat or rotating wall vesselii),
and/or radiation analogs (such as the NASA space radiation laboratory at Brookhaven National
Lab) are examples of facilities capable of testing and demonstrating microbial host strain
capabilities for molecule production in spaceflight-like conditions.

 

Cite This Article

 
International Defense Security & Technology (December 6, 2022) DARPA B-SURE developing Biomanufacturing in Space for DoD orbital and lunar missions. Retrieved from https://idstch.com/space/darpa-b-sure-developing-biomanufacturing-in-space-for-dod-orbital-and-lunar-missions/.
"DARPA B-SURE developing Biomanufacturing in Space for DoD orbital and lunar missions." International Defense Security & Technology - December 6, 2022, https://idstch.com/space/darpa-b-sure-developing-biomanufacturing-in-space-for-dod-orbital-and-lunar-missions/
International Defense Security & Technology June 8, 2022 DARPA B-SURE developing Biomanufacturing in Space for DoD orbital and lunar missions., viewed December 6, 2022,<https://idstch.com/space/darpa-b-sure-developing-biomanufacturing-in-space-for-dod-orbital-and-lunar-missions/>
International Defense Security & Technology - DARPA B-SURE developing Biomanufacturing in Space for DoD orbital and lunar missions. [Internet]. [Accessed December 6, 2022]. Available from: https://idstch.com/space/darpa-b-sure-developing-biomanufacturing-in-space-for-dod-orbital-and-lunar-missions/
"DARPA B-SURE developing Biomanufacturing in Space for DoD orbital and lunar missions." International Defense Security & Technology - Accessed December 6, 2022. https://idstch.com/space/darpa-b-sure-developing-biomanufacturing-in-space-for-dod-orbital-and-lunar-missions/
"DARPA B-SURE developing Biomanufacturing in Space for DoD orbital and lunar missions." International Defense Security & Technology [Online]. Available: https://idstch.com/space/darpa-b-sure-developing-biomanufacturing-in-space-for-dod-orbital-and-lunar-missions/. [Accessed: December 6, 2022]

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