Frugalising Space Solutions

It has been exactly 60 years since humankind has found itself in space for the first time. Since then, space missions have been becoming longer and more commonplace. This has certainly created issues of the sustenance of astronauts in space, as their survival requires very large masses of oxygen, water and food, which are too expensive and bulky to be transported. A possible solution to this problem is employing a circular life support system, and that is exactly what the MELiSSA space research consortium tries to do. 

The students of the minor are working with a part of the MELiSSA research program,  SEMiLLA, which tries to apply circular space technology on Earth. However, while the SEMiLLA department together with the Delta Agrifood Business lab in Bergen op Zoom are doing a feasibility study for (high-tech) space applications, the students will be looking at “frugalising” these space applications to make them more generally applicable.


The Delta Agrifood Business lab, is an agrifood that  tries to bring innovative companies together to work smarter, more sustainably and circularly. It is an open innovation and expertise centre for business and education, as well as a breeding ground that gathers and shares knowledge about Agrifood. The students’ initial assignment was to work on the energy efficiency of the building. However, they quickly saw an opportunity to combine its knowledge with SEMiLLAs to try to combat an Earthly problem, namely, malnutrition in Kenya.

One effective way to combat this and other national public health issues is an algae used in long-term space missions by NASA - spirulina. Spirulina has a protein content of 70%, which is three times the amount found in beef. It is also rich in various micronutrients like iron, zinc and different vitamin Bs, which could contribute to the healthy development of preschool children (6-59 months) who are the most susceptible to malnutrition in Kibera. For these reasons, the spirulina farm project was started. The project aims to bring cheap, protein rich products to the informal settlement of Kibera in Kenya, whilst simultaneously developing a small scale farm that is interesting for the DAB lab in Bergen op Zoom. 

The next step

The student team is working on developing a first prototype of a spirulina farm right now in Curaçao to research how spirulina is best grown, how much can be harvested and how long it takes until the harvest. The spirulina will be bought from an algae farmer working in Curaçao who is connected to a spirulina farm in Rotterdam, which Marjenka, one of the team members, managed to visit. At the same time, the design of the end product is constantly evaluated and improved, so the team will end up with various designs from which to choose. 

To market the product in Kibera, the social context will be analyzed in more detail by staying in contact with people experienced in the agrifood business in Kenya, and by establishing new contacts with students living in Nairobi and Kibera. To analyse the market and to make sure the product will be sold, the team will contact relevant influential people in Kibera that have the power to advertise the product successfully. Interviews with various experts will be conducted continuously, ranging from spirulina farmers in the Netherlands to researchers conducting a similar project for MELiSSA in Congo. 

Frugal Innovation aspect and objectives

The main objective has been to develop a market research into creating a circular spirulina farm. A location that draws its nutrient sources from wastewater by using natural light for lighting and makes use of a water filter to avoid wasting water.  Spirulina is highly nutritional and using circular technology created for long-term space missions on Earth has the advantage of being space and resource-efficient. The project frugalizes this technology by making it cheaper, less high-tech and adapted to the Kibera climate with as a main goal to increase the sustainability of farming in Kibera and the Netherlands (and in the future other locations)


Project Team


  • Ralph Lindeboom
  • Radu Giurgiu
  • Peter Scheer
  • Clara Plata

Partner organizations

  • Anja Hessels
  • DAB lab

Academic Supervisor

  • Ralph Lindeboom, TU Delft

Student Research Team

  • Marjenka de Bell (International Business Administration - EUR)
  • Charlotte Buder (Governance, Economics and Development - LU)
  • Gijs Woudenberg (Industrial Design Engineering - TUD)