By 5 January 2018 May 24th, 2018 News

ATP-Metry: a technology in orbit

Three litres of water per person per day. Three liters only for washing the body, hair and teeth, drinking, cooking… It is to this strict constraint that astronauts are required to be in the International Space Station (ISS).
Perpetually recycled water, which must be constantly monitored, even decontaminated. A problem that the GL Biocontrol company is currently tackling. Integrated into the Biowyse consortium, she has 3 years to provide an “on-line” machine, allowing automated analysis of bacteria in water and adapted to spatial habitat.

Gravity, restricted space, limited weight… due to very specific constraints and the risk of contamination, the presence of water within the ISS is limited to the bare minimum. The company GL Biocontrol, based in Montpellier, specialising in the management of microbiological risks in the waters, has been confronted for some months with
In-depth study of this issue. We were contacted at the end of 2014 by a subsidiary of the Thales Group, Thales Alenia Space, retrace Nicolas Fabre, technical manager of GL Biocontrol. They were interested in the manual technology we developed to control the microbiological quality of the water: quantitative ATP-metry. But we didn’t know in what context. “

“An automation of our method of ATP-Metry, which will eventually be adapted to the spatial habitat”

Focus on quantitative ATP-metrics

This technique, developed by the company in 2009, allows to quantify the number of bacteria in the waters. It is now
The easiest and fastest on the market. Initially, quantitative ATP-metrics were a measure used in the laboratory. We simplified it and adapted it to the field, details Clément Faye, research engineer. The kit we sell has several advantages: it is easy to use, obtaining the result is very fast,-about 2 minutes-, and allows to go down very low at the detection limit. This is probably the most sensitive product on the market.

To conquer space

Of the arguments that have taken the attention of the Thales group. Then in search of industrial partners to answer a call for proposals launched by the European Commission within the framework of Horizon 2020, Thales Alenia Space then proposed to them to join their consortium, “Biowyse”. “The theme of the call for projects was” how to manage the level of contamination of air, water and surfaces in the International space Station. ” They expected us to automate our method of ATP-metry, and that it could eventually be adapted to the spatial habitat.

More aggressive bacteria

“We learned in September 2015 that the Biowyse project had been chosen by the European Commission,” explains Nicolas Fabre. Since then, we have been working on issues specific to the orbital space Station. The astronauts who operate there are in fact limited to 3 litres of water per day and per person. A data that constrains the lives of astronauts, and the development of the project for GL Biocontrol “you have to imagine doing everything with only 3 litres of water: washing, drinking… or just having a satisfactory level of hygiene.” The stakes for the company are big. “All the water, all the fluids in the station, including liquid waste, sweat, condensation… are constantly recycled, processed and reused. Bacteria are also more aggressive because they do not have to “fight” against gravity. We can’t take any chances with the health of the astronauts.

Three years, two modules

GL Biocontrol is now three years old to develop a machine to prevent this type of problem. “Astronauts need to be able to make the decision to launch a disinfection and intervene on board the station more upstream than today,” notes Clément Faye. “Our job is to imagine and build two modules derived from the technology of ATP-metry: A water control, a monitoring of the soiling of the surfaces. In addition to the follow-up, these modules control the water treatment in real time. » Modules that will be delivered running on Earth but thought to be adapted to microgravity.

A challenge to meet the requirements of weight, size, electrical power… also constrain the project. “But it’s a very motivating challenge!” And the machine may be able to serve later as part of projects to the moon or Mars. ” A form of recognition for the company: “Our technology is of interest, whether it is for the surfaces or the water part, and we have been trusted by major players in the industry.” GL Biocontrol is one of the major contributors to this project. Two engineers have just been recruited to work specifically on the Biowyse project. As for the future machine, its terrestrial version of automatic and real-time water control will be marketed in the coming months.

P. Da Silva

A European consortium

Biowyse is both the name of the project developed and the name given to the consortium, which brings together 9 companies.

Among them:
► Thales Alenia Space (Italy),
► European Science Foundation (France),
► GL Biocontrol (France),
► Aquisense Technologies (England),
► Liewenthal Electronics (Estonia)…

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