A group of researchers is designing a starship that can keep generations of crew alive during interstellar trips that could take many years.

Evolving Starship

The Delft University of Technology Starship Team (DSTART) is developing concepts for a resilient space vehicle capable of traveling across stars.

The idea is to construct the spaceship from a hollowed-out asteroid. Traveling beyond the solar system, if this becomes a reality in the future, could likely take decades or even a century.

Researchers said that this is one reason why interstellar vehicles should be capable of evolving. Such a starship, they argued, should be able to behave like a living organism that uses raw materials that are available in space, such as asteroids.

These space rocks can be exploited as source of building materials and fuel.

"In light of our insatiable appetite for exploration, it is inevitable that the human species will ultimately travel outside of the known solar system. It is the next step in human evolution," DSTART founder Angelo Vermeulen said.

"My research concerns solutions that unite the biological, technological and social dimensions. And it is about spaceships that evolve during their journey."

Self-Supporting System

The DSTART team thinks that 3D printers can be used to print new parts and for expanding the ship, which needs to accommodate a growing ecosystem. Bacteria can break down human waste and convert this into carbon dioxide for plants that will, in turn, provide oxygen and food for the space travelers.

The team has already turned to the European Space Agency for the life support of the spaceship. The space agency is currently working on a self-supporting closed loop system via the MELiSSA project.

The 11-nation MELiSSA program aims to perfect a self-sustaining life support system that could be flown in space in the future. It is inspired by natural aquatic systems to convert organic waste into oxygen, carbon dioxide, food, and water that can be used to sustain life during space travel.

"We need self-sustaining and evolvable space technology capable of enduring the many decades needed to journey from our Solar System to another," Vermeulen said. "As part of that, we are looking at the kind of regenerative life-support system pioneered by the ESA-led MELiSSA (Micro-Ecological Life Support System Alternative) programme."

The DSTART team will present the first version of the starship-scale MELiSSA computer simulation at the AgroSpace-MELiSSA workshop in Rome next month. The simulation offers opportunity to assess the robustness of the MELiSSA system as it travels through deep space for an extended length of time.

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