Life Support Systems – Increase Oxygen Recovery

In 2015, NASA developed 15 technology roadmaps as part of the Strategic Technology Investment Plan. These roadmaps are used to help guide the agency in critical areas of development necessary for achieving NASA’s missions. Addressed in Technology Area (TA) 6, and essential to long duration manned space flight beyond low Earth orbit, is life support.

Life support involves multiple functions, including the recovery of oxygen (O2) from the carbon dioxide (CO2) exhaled during crew respiration. This function is called CO2 Reduction and is identified in TA6 as an enabling technology for future long-duration missions. As such, NASA is currently pursuing technologies to address this need but the current process, used on the International Space Station, recovers and recycles ~50% of the O2 from CO2. For future missions, NASA is targeting >75% O2 recovery for near-term missions, and >90% O2 recovery for longer-term missions.

Over the last several decades, NASA and its partners have been exploring a range of technologies to maximize the recovery of O2 from metabolic CO2. These technologies have included methods to achieve various levels of O2 recovery including the Sabatier reaction, Sabatier-methane post-processing, the Bosch process, co-electrolysis of water and CO2 using solid oxide electrolysis and low temperature membrane technology, and ionic liquids, among others. 

This innovation challenge topic seeks to explore new methods to increase the recovery of oxygen (O2) from the carbon dioxide (CO2) exhaled during crew respiration. CO2 reduction for future use in long-duration manned missions are necessary for our success.  

Efforts target methods that have not been previously explored, methods that produce byproducts that can be used for other purposes within life support or in other applications, and methods that have terrestrial uses in addition to space application.