international space station iss

Commercial greenhouse to be launched to space in world-first

Image credit: DT

Redwire Corporation plans to launch the first commercial space greenhouse in 2023, with the goal of boosting crop production research outside Earth.

As part of an effort to explore the possibility of producing food outside of the Earth's atmosphere, Redwire Corporation has set off to develop the "only commercially-owned and operated spaceflight-qualified plant growth platform capable of growing plants from seed to maturity in space", the company has said. 

The greenhouse will be launched in the spring of next year and be housed in the International Space Station (ISS). 

The space infrastructure company's project is expected to help deliver critical insights for Nasa's Artemis missions, which aim to take a new crew of astronauts to the Moon, where they would establish a long-term lunar colony. This colony is perceived as a precursor to the eventual human exploration of Mars.

“Growing full crops in space will be critical to future space exploration missions as plants provide food, oxygen and water reclamation," said Dave Reed, the company's greenhouse project manager. "Increasing the throughput of crop production research in space, through commercially developed capabilities, will be important to deliver critical insights for Nasa’s Artemis missions and beyond.”

Commercial agricultural technology firm Dewey Scientific will be the company's first customer, Redwire said, adding that the company's products include a fully-automated plant growth system for conducting research in the ISS.

During the inaugural flight, Dewey Scientific plans to grow industrial hemp in the Greenhouse for a 60-day gene expression study. 

“Through partnerships with Redwire, space is open for business,” said John Vellinger, Redwire’s executive vice president.

Nasa's Artemis missions are committed to preparing humans “to travel on increasingly farther and longer-duration missions to destinations like Mars”, the organisation said. In addition to the Redwire greenhouse project, the space organisation also recently announced its own mission to test the effects of space radiation on living organisms, such as yeast.

Other firms are also interested in growing plants in space, and there have been previous experiments on the ISS.

The US is not the only country to invest in space exploration. Last month, China took similar steps to expand its position within the space research sector with the launch of Wentian, a science laboratory module that will be part of the country's Tiangong orbiting space station. 

The success of the ISS greenhouse project is clouded by the possibility of the retirement of the space station and Russia's announcement that it plans to withdraw from the international project once all its commitments to the mission have been fulfilled. If that is the case, China's Tiangong could soon become the only functional space station in orbit around the Earth

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