Microgravity Investigation for Thin Film Hydroponics

PI: Christine Escobar, Space Lab Technologies, LLC

This flight demonstration addresses the need for versatile, reliable, and efficient crop production systems for long duration human space exploration. A 2017 phase I NASA Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) project "µg-LilyPond: Floating Plant Pond for Microgravity" investigated the benefits of the hydrophyte duckweed (a.k.a. water lentils), as a supplemental space food crop. As part of the research, the STTR project brought a capillary driven growth bed and harvester for biomass/effluent separation to TRL-4. Space Lab and the Bioastronautics group of the Aerospace Engineering and Sciences Department at CU Boulder will test technology prototypes of this growth bed and harvester to characterize the microgravity effects on water and nutrient transport, and biomass/effluent separation.

STTR Phase II (2018)
STTR Phase I (2017)

Technology Areas (?)
  • TA07 Human Exploration Destination Systems
Problem Statement

NASAs technology roadmap notes that self-sufficiency of life support systems is crucial for long-duration exploration missions. Regenerative life support will undoubtedly require food production, to recover nutrients and close the carbon loop in a spacecraft human habitat. Hydrophytes (or aquatic plants) have enormous potential for edible biomass production but have been little studied as potential food crops for space applications. During the STTR phase I investigation, water lentils were found to be 100 % edible (with no inedible biomass), nutritious, and exceptionally fast growing. For this reason, water lentils are gaining recognition as a promising new food ingredient for the rapidly growing plant protein market in the United States.

Technology Maturation

The phase I STTR µg-LilyPond effort included an investigation into water and nutrient transport by passive capillary pressure and water lentil harvesting by rotary sieve for the micro-gravity space environment. The proposed water and nutrient delivery system provides reliable, self-regulating passive transport via capillary pressure and is the first space technology to allow a liquid-air interface for aquatic plants.

Future Customers

The growth bed not only provides passive water transport but also provides stability, such that the liquid on the bed is resistant to high air flow, vibrations, and shock events. The growth chamber design contains many innovative features that will advance the state of the art in space crop production.

Technology Details

  • Selection Date
    REDDI-F1-18 (Aug 2018)
  • Program Status
  • Current TRL (?)
    Successful FOP Flights
  • 0 sRLV

Development Team

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