Researchers to test bacteria-driven space mining kits in orbit

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Photo/Shetuwang

Researchers have developed space mining devices based on bacteria's natural ability to extract useful materials from rocks, and they will soon be tested in space, the University of Edinburgh announced on Friday.

Astrobiologists at the university developed the matchbox-sized prototypes, which is called biomining reactors. Eighteen of the devices will be transported to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX rocket, which is scheduled to launch in late July or August from Cape Canaveral in the U.S.

The study may lead to new ways to source minerals essential for survival in space.

When these prototype devices arrive at the space station, small pieces of basalt rock, which makes up the surface of the Moon and Mars, will be loaded into each device and submerged in bacterial solution.

Tests will be conducted in low gravity to find out how conditions on asteroids and planets such as Mars might affect the ability of bacteria to mine minerals from rocks found there.

"This experiment will give us new fundamental insights into the behavior of microbes in space, their applications in space exploration and how they might be used more effectively on Earth in all the myriad way that microbes affect our lives," said Professor Charles Cockell from the University of Edinburgh.

The experiment will also study how microbes grow and form layers -- known as biofilms -- on natural surfaces in space.

 

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Editor: Lan Suying