American company Redwire Corporation announced plans to place the first commercial greenhouse in orbit. The company intends to grow plants on the ISS, the launch itself is planned no earlier than the spring of 2023. The authors of the project say that its goal is to develop systems for growing plants during manned flights to other planets.
And we dream of green grass
Redwire Greenhouse has announced plans to launch the first-ever full-cycle commercial greenhouse into Earth orbit, from seed to fruit. The greenhouse will be located on the ISS. The cultivated plants will be sent by Redwire to Earth, where scientists will conduct detailed studies and find out how safe they are to eat.
The cultivation of various crops in space for scientific purposes has been going on for a long time. In the 1970s, Soviet and American cosmonauts began growing green onions, peas, lettuce and other crops. But the matter has not yet reached the launch of commercial space greenhouses.
The main problems with growing plants in space are the lack of soil, water and air / carbon dioxide, as well as low gravity, which does not allow plant tissues to develop fully.
As a result, plants lose their flavor and are smaller than usual. Another problem is the increased radiation in space, which can affect the DNA of plants.
“The Redwire Greenhouse project expands scientific research to improve grain production on Earth and will analyze the prospects for crop production in space for long-term human spaceflight,” said Dave Reid, project manager for this project at Redwire Corporation. “Producing a full-fledged crop in space will be crucial for the future of space exploration, as plants not only have nutritional value, but also produce oxygen and regenerate water. Increasing the production of plants in space on a commercial scale will be an important step for development of new projects, such as NASA’s Artemis project (a manned flight to the Moon, planned for 2024— “b”), and future missions.”
The Redwire project is funded by the American ISS National Research Laboratory. The greenhouse will use a special hydroponic system PONDS (Passive Orbital Nutrient Delivery System), developed together with Tupperware Corporation and already approved by NASA.
Space technology at the service of earthlings
Some scientists go even further and believe that space-based crop cultivation systems will also be useful on Earth, where resources are already scarce, for the foreseeable future. Orbital Farm, for example, is developing circular dome farming projects.
The company promises to counteract the intensified climate change. And also to develop agriculture in regions that are now of little use for this (mountainous, cold, dry and so on), which solves the problem of hunger in poor countries, often located in such regions. The company develops projects for the production of not only grain, vegetables, fruit, but also fish and shellfish.
Last year, NASA built a special “vertical farm” that uses the experience of growing plants in orbit. The farm was created in collaboration with Plenty Unlimited, a company specializing in vertical farms, which are already gaining popularity around the world.
By combining hydroponic technology and controlled environment farming, Plenty’s vertical farm can significantly reduce not only the area required to grow crops, but also the volume of soil and water, as their distribution is clearly controlled by a computer system. The farm works in a closed cycle and processes residual products into new nutrients.
On an area of 2 acres (0.8 ha), it can produce a volume of agricultural produce comparable to that of a conventional farm of 720 acres (290 ha).
Another potentially useful development for Earth, originally intended for space, could be Whole-Body Edible and Elite Plant (WBEEP) crops. At the end of last year, Chinese scientists announced research in this area. By affecting the biosynthesis of potatoes, scientists proposed to block or significantly reduce the production of solanine in it, a toxic compound found in the fruits (“berries”) of potatoes, which makes them unsuitable for food under normal conditions. And biofortification (increasing the nutritional value through enrichment and selection) of leaves and stems can increase the edibility of these parts of the potato plant.
The researchers believe that such technology will help not only to provide astronauts with fully edible plants during flight, but also to optimize agriculture on Earth. “We understand that the practical application of WBEEP technologies in space for good nutrition is still difficult to achieve in the near future. But we believe that these technologies are very promising – and not only for space, but also for traditional agriculture,” notes the authors.