Document Type


Original Publication Date


Journal/Book/Conference Title

Planetary and Space Science





First Page


Last Page


DOI of Original Publication


Date of Submission

March 2015


Ecosystems in space will need in-situ bioavailable nutrients. The measured nutrients in meteorites allow experiment-based estimates of nutrients in asteroids, and of the biomass and populations that can be derived from these in situ bioresources. In this respect, we found that carbonaceous chondrite meteorites can support microorganisms and plant cultures, suggesting that similar asteroid materials are also biologically fertile. The sustainable biomass and populations are determined by the available resource materials, their yields of nutrients and biomass, the biomass needed to support human populations, the duration of the ecosystem, and wastage. The bioavailable C, N, and electrolytes in carbonaceous chondrite meteorites vary as CM2 > CR2 > CV3 > CO3 > CK4 > CK5 in correlation with petrologic type, including aqueous alteration.Their average bioavailable C, N, K and P can yield 2.4, 3.5, 2.5, and 0.08 g biomass/kg resource material, respectively, showing phosphorus as the limiting nutrient. On this basis, soluble nutrients in a 100 km radius, 1019 kg resource asteroid can sustain an ecosystem of 108 kg biomass and a human population of 10,000 for >109 years, and its total nutrient contents can sustain a population of one million, by replacing a wastage of 1% of the biomass per year. Overall, the total nutrient contents of the 1022 kg carbonaceous asteroids can yield a biomass of 1020 kg that supports a steady-state human population of one billion during the habitable future of the Solar System, contributing a time-integrated biomass of 1022 kg-years. These astroecology estimates use experimental data on nutrients in asteroids/meteorites to quantify the sustainable biomass and human populations in this and similar solar systems.


Copyright © Elsevier Ltd. NOTICE: this is the author's version of a work that was accepted for publication in Planetary and Space Science. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Planetary and Space Science, Volume 104, Part B, December 2014, Pages 234–243 doi:10.1016/j.pss.2014.10.001

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VCU Chemistry Publications