Lettuce entertain you – in Space!
Thales Alenia Space is a major contributor to the Eden-ISS project, designed to grow plants in space for food and life support. In fact, researchers have already grown lettuce in the Eden experimental container, on a substrate that resembles Martian soil…
The possibility of long-term space missions has greatly increased the interest in growing plants in space, not only for food, but also to produce oxygen, fix carbon dioxide and purify water – not to mention the mental benefits of seeing a green garden for astronauts cooped up in a spaceship for months or years.
A few years ago Thales Alenia Space drew on its expertise in environmental control and life support systems to launch an R&D program on Regenerative Environmental Control, at its laboratories in Turin. These labs designed a mini-greenhouse dubbed "Eden", a refrigerator-sized container in which researchers have successfully grown lettuce on a substrate that simulates Martian soil. Light for the garden comes from psychedelic red and blue LEDs, to stimulate the photosynthesis function. The plants draw carbon dioxide from their surroundings and use water from condensed cabin humidity. Besides providing food, this project is designed to renew cabin oxygen and purify water, via absorption through the roots and leaf transpiration.
The Eden-ISS project, funded by the European Commission and coordinated by the German aerospace center DLR in Bremen, with a major contribution from Italy, explores the possibility of using this setup on the International Space Station. A first step will conduct tests in Antarctica, an extreme environment that is similar to conditions in space. According to Thales Alenia Space's engineers at the Life Support & Habitat unit in Turin, the base in Antarctica will replicate the isolated biological environment typical of a space station. It will study Eden's ability to produce quality foods under extreme conditions and contend with various issues, especially the high safety standards demanded of all space operations.
These studies could also later be applied on Earth, in terms of improving yields and reducing the environmental impact of greenhouse crops, based on more efficient light, water and waste management.
© Thales Alenia Space/Stefano D’Amadio