The mini-greenhouse uses a combination of red, green and blue LEDS in order to provide lights for the plants to grow. The LEDs only emit wavelengths of light that are utilized by plant life such as blue light for plant structure and orientation in microgravity, and red light for photosynthesis. The system also has a time-release system for fertilizer and water. Fully collapsible, the chamber is roughly 16 by 20 inches and expands as the plant grow.
In an email to Discovery News, NASA’s lead scientist Ray Wheeler said, “It has held up very well. We didn’t have any failures e.g., water leaks, electrical overloads, plants drying out, etc.), which is all important information for assessing the system reliability.”
Orbital Technologies project manager Robert Richter was even more positive about the project saying he envisioned future space missions have a greenhouse the size of a station module to feed the crew. “It’s a psychological boost,” Richter said. “Whenever we have had a plant science payload, the station crew was going over several times a day to see the plants.”
“I think it has applications on Earth as well, like aboard submarines,” he added. “Anywhere you’re removed from the environment and you need effective use of power to grow plants.”
The idea to put greenhouse into space has been theorized for decades and was shown in the sci-fi film Sunshine, where the spaceship had a massive oxygen garden to grow food, and for plants to provide oxygen to the crew.
Lead image courtesy of Orbital Technologies.