A UK-led mining-in-space experiment will start today for its journey to the International Space Station.
The experiment has the potential to provide resources for future missions to the Moon and Mars.
Experiments on the ISS have shown that the biomining process works in microgravity.
The discovery could help the first space colonists collect the minerals they need to build a long-lasting presence outside Earth.
The BioAsteroid experiment will be launched into orbit with a SpaceX rocket at 4:39 PM on Saturday.
It will take up matchbox-sized containers of asteroid rock.
This will then be used to grow bacteria and fungi in an incubator for three weeks to investigate how gravity affects the interaction between the microbes and the rock under reduced gravity.
Scientists will investigate how the microbes extract materials from rocks in space.
On Earth, microbes are used in some mining as a gentle way of accessing metals, digesting the rock, and what is left behind are the metals that miners need.
If successful, the method would support efforts to explore the Moon and Mars, allowing humans to extract building materials, water, or rocket fuel.
By experimenting on the ISS, scientists can conduct research in conditions that cannot be simulated on Earth.
Libby Jackson, human exploration program manager at the UK Space Agency, said: “If we are to continue to explore space and push the boundaries of what is possible, then we will have to create or find the essential elements needed to sustain life. .
“Our membership of the European Space Agency allows British scientists to take advantage of the unique scientific facilities available on the ISS and to be at the forefront of efforts to restore the foundations of life on Earth.
“The new Bioreactor Express program, of which this experiment is a part, will change the way we can use this unique laboratory and open new opportunities for British scientists and organizations to undertake science in space.”
Scientists from the University of Edinburgh and Kayser Space, based in the Harwell space cluster in Oxfordshire, collaborated on the project.
Professor Charles Cockell, University of Edinburgh, said: “To sustain humans permanently outside of Earth, we need access to useful materials.
“This experiment increases our ability to do that.
“It will also provide new fundamental insights into processes that are useful here on Earth, such as biomining and how microbes form biofilms that pollute our pipes and industrial facilities.”
The experiment will be launched to the ISS on the SpX-21, a commercial resupply mission contracted by Nasa flown by SpaceX using a Cargo Dragon 2.