We live in a most interesting time, when humans are once again looking to the Moon, Mars, and asteroids as potential homes for the next generation. Picking up where the Apollo era left off, this new space arena is reinvigorating the public and private aerospace sectors, researchers and educators around the world. Now is the time to look to the stars and see our species taking on a new kind of adventure. But to get there, we need to prepare.
Given the expense and challenge of delivering structures, power, food, water, and recycling systems to a remote location such as Mars, the fundamental goal of SIMOC is investigation of the minimal complexity required to sustain human life for long duration, off-world missions. The ideal life support system is a hybrid mechanical (Environmental Control and Life Support Systems, or ECLSS) and plant-based (bioregenerative) solution where the human inhabitants rely principally on the plants for air and water recycling and food production, with ECLSS working to augment and/or provide a backup system.
Each agent represents a relatively simple function—the intake of oxygen and output of carbon dioxide by a human, for example. Complexity arises through the interaction of several, interconnected and interdependent agents to form non-linear functions in a dynamical model. Introduce a full ECLSS rack composed of a half dozen machines, each of which processes a specific form of organic waste to produce clean air and water. Then add two dozen plant species, nutrient uptake and plant harvesting, solar panels, batteries, lights, heating and cooling and these otherwise simple functions exhibit complex behavior which can be difficult to predict.
While programs have since the 1950s built real-world analogs such as the Russian Bios3, U.S. Biosphere2, ESA’s (non-human) MELiSSA, and more recently China’s Lunar Palace, SIMOC provides an opportunity to model the complexity of long-term scalable systems similar to those that will sustain human life as we become an interplanetary species. Initially, SIMOC models a relatively simple, real-world system, mirroring the behavior of physicochemical and bioregenerative life support systems. SIMOC will enable virtual testing of habitats that have not been built in the real-world, including hybrid solutions designed to support large human populations over extended periods of time. With an established, proven baseline, it is anticipated that SIMOC will provide valuable feedback for the academic and professional research community, while providing citizen scientists with an engaging educational experience.