Thermal Design and Turbidity Sensor for Autonomous Bacterial Growth Measurements in Spaceflight

Roel van Benthem, Janneke Krooneman, Wubbo de Grave, Hilma Hammenga

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


For application of biological air filters in manned spacecraft, research on bacterial growth is carried out under microgravity conditions. For the BIOFILTER experiment, flown in 2005 on FOTON M2, eight turbidity sensors to measure the growth rate of the bacterium Xanthobacter autotrophicus GJ10 were used. Also thermal management provisions were implemented to control the internal temperature. The design and performance of the BIOFILTER equipment as well as results of the biological ground reference experiments performed in 2006 are discussed. High-performance thermal (vacuum) insulation (λ= 0.7 mW/mK) and phase change material were implemented, keeping the BIOFILTER internal temperature below 16°C during the 4-day integration period between transport and launch. After launch, in microgravity, the growth of X. autotrophicus GJ10 was successfully triggered by a temperature increase by using an internal heater to 26°C. Although the operation of the sensor electronics was not fully satisfying, the bacterial growth was measured with the sensors, revealing growth rates between 0.046 and 0.077 h−1 in microgravity, that is, approximately 1.5–2.5 times slower than routinely measured on Earth under optimal laboratory conditions. For the ground-reference experiments the equipment box, containing the eight sensors, was placed on a random positioning machine performing random rotations at 0.5°/min (settling compensation) and 90°/min (microgravity simulation) while the environment was controlled, accurately repeating the BIOFILTER internal temperature profile. Despite the rotation speed differences, growth rates of 0.115 h−1 were confirmed by both the ground reference experiments. Biological interpretation of the measurements is, however, compromised owing to poor mixing and other unknown physical and biological phenomena that need to be addressed for further space experiments using these kinds of systems
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)147-165
Number of pages18
JournalInterdisciplinary Transport Phenomena Fluid, Thermal, Biological, Materials, and Space Sciences
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 17 Apr 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • autonomous bacterial growth measurements
  • ruimtevluchten


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