We believe that the aforementioned challenges can be solved using synthetic chemistry methods. However, the study of synthetic chemistry in space has not been performed, mainly due to issues with performing traditional batch chemistry in a low or zero gravity environment and the problems with reproducible mixing that it requires. Other issues relate to the containment of hazardous (toxic or flammable) chemicals in spacecraft, the reaction of said chemicals along with the reactors themselves.
Flow chemistry is a relatively new and alternative synthetic technique that can solve issues regarding chemistry in zero gravity and safety. Instead of chemistry being performed in a flask, flow chemistry is performed using the continuous flow and mixing of either 2 or more liquid/gas reagents or passing said reaction mixture though a stationary fixed solid reagent under heating or cooling in a sealed reactor.
The advantages are: (i) no free headspace in which chemicals can float to making results irreproducible; (ii) reactions can be performed on a very small scale reducing the hazardous nature of a reaction; (iii) multiple reactions and purification steps can be combined (telescoping) to create complex molecules from simple building blocks in one continuous stream; (iv) it is easier to automate to allow remote control.
Flow chemistry can now open the door to studying chemistry in space for the first time. Studies into whether the harsh conditions of space (UV, Cold, Vacuum) can lead to the discovery of new chemistry, chemistry pathways, or unique molecules that can benefit humankind. It can also be applied to solving the major issues outlined above-this will be the focus of the Space Flow Project Consortium (SFPC).