CUBES impact


The CUBES goal of efficiently using in situ resources and effectively recycling them to drive the manufacture of useful products will meet a long-standing need for space missions, which is to substantially reduce manufacturing-infrastructure mass and related costs in harsh conditions. The planned CUBES output of a semi-closed loop that integrates resource-recovery in a resource-poor environment with waste streams to biologically drive the manufacture of fuel, materials, pharmaceuticals, and food will establish the capacity to biologically support manned space exploration on par with abiotic techniques.

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CUBES benefits


  1. Engineered microbes to convert limited or marginally accessible Martian feedstocks, such as atmospheric gases at low partial pressure and nutrients from contaminated/toxic land, into valuable commodities.
  2. Novel biologically-coupled nanotechnologies to fix available carbon and nitrogen and to transfer energy into biosynthetic processes;
  3. Refined plants and plant microbiomes that grow in restricted space, light, water, and nutrients, and that can still provide substantial yields of nutritive foods;
  4. Biologically-produced pharmaceuticals, cell-based treatments/therapeutics, and materials for on-demand diverse additive manufacturing applications; 
  5. Optimized, integrated operation of the above processes.

CUBES’ individual approaches to media production, mission product manufacture, and food and pharmaceutical synthesis, amplified by a focus on integration and optimization, will lead to a strong data-driven, technologically-backed platform for space biomanufacturing.

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Journey to Mars

NASA Relevance 

NASA’s 2015 Journey to Mars document describes the next pioneering steps in space exploration through three tiers of missions: Earth Reliant, Proving Ground, and Earth Independent. CUBES will be strategically aligned with all three tiers. A CUBES demonstration biosystem will baseline future Earth Reliant testing in 3D-printing, in situ resource utilization, and food and pharmaceutical production. CUBES research could help minimize resupply needs on a Proving Ground mission. Finally, use of the CUBES-produced biosystem to harvest Martian resources for fuel, water, oxygen, and building materials will satisfy requirements for Earth Independence.

There are inherent mass, power, and volume advantages of space biotechnology over traditional abiotic approaches. CUBES will harness these advantages in a biosystem that will have tightly coupled subsystem inputs and outputs, and that will use Mars-like resources and conditions to expand from an initial seed set to meet the space biomanufacturing goals.

CUBES will be aligned with the 2015 NASA Technology Roadmaps, especially TA07 Human Exploration Destination Systems. TA07 includes TA7.1 In Situ Resource Utilization (the MMFD, BBMD, and FPSD will all use such inputs), TA7.2 Sustainability and Supportability (the MMFD, BBMD, and FPSD will all use sustainable resource recycling), TA7.4 Habitat Systems (CUBES will develop a semi-autonomous proof-of-concept biomanufacturing demonstration), and TA7.6 Cross-Cutting Systems (the BBMD additive manufacturing technology will be designed for scaling assembly). Additionally, CUBES will facilitate the development of technologies in TA06 Human Health, Life Support, and Habitation Systems by enabling long-duration, deep-space human exploration through the minimization of resupply consumables and increased Earth independence via Martian in situ resource utilization, synthetic biology, and biomanufacturing. The FPSD will address TA6.3 Human Health and Performance, and the MMFD will address TA6.1 Environmental Control, Life Support Systems and Habitation Systems, and TA6.4 Environmental Monitoring, Safety, and Emergency Response through remediation of toxic perchlorate in the Martian regolith.