Washington: ESA are currently on a look out for new ideas on materials which can be recycled or converted into different, useful resources for other processes.
The idea has been inspired by the sustainable `cradle to cradle` approach explored by terrestrial industry in recent years, where all the raw materials in a product can be later reused for another product, or consumed as food, with no waste residue and no loss in quality.
Adapting this approach to space, future planetary probes or satellites might become sources of fuel, water or other raw materials considered scarce for the exploration missions that come after them.
Examples might include grinding down metal alloys into powder to serve as raw materials for manufacturing new hardware by 3D printing.
Organic materials could be separated by heating for subsequent reuse of the resulting gases. Leftover solid rocket fuel might be broken down for reuse.
Biodegradable materials could be harnessed as biological nutrients in a life-support system, such as ESA`s Micro-Ecological Life Support System Alternative, MELiSSA, a long-term effort to create artificial closed-loop life support serving future manned missions, based on microbes and higher plants.