How do you feed the planet? The answer comes from space

As an enclosed hydroponic facility equipped with lighting, temperature and humidity control systems, GreenCube is able to ensure a complete growth cycle for delicate trees (in this case watercress). The crop was carefully selected to withstand harsh conditions and achieve a high yield.

In the Laboratory of Cytogenetics of the Research Institute Enea Casaccia (Rome), researchers conduct a growth test with plants in a CubeSat. Pictured: a researcher showing a base with plants.

Luca Nardi explains: “Scientific research is increasingly focused on developing biogenerative systems to support life in extreme environments, where outdoor cultivation is essentially impossible” (here in the picture), a researcher at Enea, the National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development, the second largest Italian public research body. “Plants play a key role in the micro-nutrition of astronauts in space. However, solutions designed to provide astronauts with fresh food are also finding applications in ‘ground’ gardening that we may need to use in the future.”

GreenCube is the first space gardening experiment. It was launched into orbit last July (and is still there) from Kourou base in French Guiana with the European Space Agency’s (ESA) first VEGA-C launch vehicle, along with the LARES2 science satellite and five other nanosatellites.

The small garden, with dimensions of 30 x 10 x 10 cm, was designed by an all-Italian scientific team. The project is the result of a cooperation agreement between the Italian Space Agency (ASI) and La Sapienza University of Rome. Enea and Federico II University of Naples are also involved.

“Small hydroponic devices like the GreenCube can play a major role in meeting the crew’s food needs, minimizing growth cycles and avoiding contamination, thanks to automated monitoring of environmental conditions. Because the cultivation takes place in a compact and confined environment, the GreenCube is also equipped with an integrated system From high-tech sensors for remote monitoring and control of environmental parameters, growth and plant health All data is transmitted independently to the base on Earth The in-orbit farming system provides maximum efficiency in terms of harvest volume, energy consumption, air, water and nutrients During the mission, planning is planned Also to conduct experiments on Earth within a satellite replica to check the effects of radiation, low pressure and microgravity on plants.”

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The GreenCube satellite is cylindrical, measures 10 x 10 x 30 cm and is made of aluminum. Photovoltaic panels are installed along all walls, and are necessary to operate the management and control system and sensors during a mission in space.

“The data we receive is of great importance for understanding how we can improve intensive gardening, make it increasingly accurate and rationalize the consumption of energy, fertilizer and water. The solution to growing vegetables at home and practically on demand according to the increasing nutritional needs of the individual is approaching and soon it will be possible to grow fresh produce based on different parameters Such as body weight, height and even the genetic characteristics of the individual,” says Nardi.

“Urban farming or local farming can support the integration of intensive horticulture because climate change is making outdoor farming increasingly difficult. We are also thinking about how we can grow in the hardest-to-reach areas of the planet (deserts). High mountains, Arctic regions. Northern), where weather conditions do not allow gardening. With some future exceptions, we work a lot in our research on technological innovation that can be applied in modern gardening. It is from experiments like these that solutions have been found against food waste and in the service of gardening that are estimated to feed a planet inhabited 10 billions of people in the coming years.

for more information:
Luca Nardic
biotechnology lab
[email protected]

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