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URINIS Project - Urine valorisation in Space


MELiSSA is the regenerative life support system for human spaceflight under development by the European Space Agency (ESA). This ambitious programme aims to produce food, oxygen and water from the mission wastes. Urine is here of key interest, given its high content of nitrogen, which can be recovered to serve as fertilizer for plants and cyanobacteria. Nitrification of urine is the preferred treatment technology, as it produces a stable liquid stream rich in nitrate and low in biodegradable organics.

State of the art

The SCK•CEN Microbiology team and Ghent University have demonstrated in two successful space flight experiments that nitrifiers can be reactivated after spaceflight to low Earth orbit (Lindeboom et al., 2018; Ilgrande et al., 2019). Recently the Belgian Federal Science Policy Office (BELSPO) and ESA have approved the project proposal describing the second phase of ‘URINIS’, the MELiSSA project to demonstrate the feasibility of urine nitrification in space. The URINIS project, led by Ghent University in collaboration with SCK•CEN, the Université de Mons and the University of Antwerp, brings together top scientific teams in the field of applied microbiology and microbial ecology and technology to tackle the challenges of performing such experiments in space and develop the needed tools and methods to analyse its outcomes. This PHD project is part of the URINIS-A project.

Research hypothesis

In addition of two successful space flight experiments, a number of preliminary ground studies performed during the first phase of the URINIS project provided preliminary knowledge on aspects such as activities, growth rates, cell motility and biofilm related organization of these nitrifying bacteria, with normal gravity and with simulated gravity. In addition, the ‘Experiment Scientific Requirements’ document, describing the next space flight experiment for URINIS on-board ISS, was written and recently approved by ESA. The research hypothesis is that the present URINIS-A Prodex project and this PhD project will be able to build on the know-how gathered during the first phase of the project to ensure the success of the first proof of principle of urine nitrification in space to be conducted at the ISS.  



  • Ilgrande C, Mastroleo F, E R Christiaens M, E F Lindeboom R, Prat D, Van Hoey O, Ambrozo V, Coninx I, Heylen W, Pommerening-Roser A, Spieck E, Boon N, E Vlaeminck S, Leys N and Clauwaert P. 2019. “Reactivation of Microbial Strains and Synthetic Communities After a Spaceflight to the International Space Station: Corroborating the Feasibility of Essential Conversions in the MELiSSA Loop.” Astrobiology 19 (9) 1167-1176.
  • Lindeboom, R, Ilgrande C, Maria Carvajal Arroyo J, Coninx I, Van Hoey O, Roume H, Morozova J, Udert K,  Sas B, Paille C, Lasseur C, Ilyin V, Clauwaert P, Leys N, and Vlaeminck S. 2018. “Nitrogen Cycle Microorganisms Can Be Reactivated After Space Exposure.” Scientific Reports 8 (1), 13783.
Universiteit UGENT
Opleiding gestart op


Mastroleo Felice


Leys Natalie


Ganigue Ramon


Verbeelen Tom

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