NASA is sending a new, nearly self-sufficient plant growth system to the International Space Station (ISS) that will help prepare astronauts to grow their own food during deep-space exploration missions.
The new plant system will this month join Veggie - NASA's first fresh food growth system already active on ISS.
The Advanced Plant Habitat will be used to conduct plant bioscience research on the space station, NASA said.
Arabidopsis seeds, small flowering plants related to cabbage and mustard, have been growing in the prototype habitat, and will be the first plant experiment, called PH-01, grown in the chamber aboard the space station.
The new plant habitat is a fully enclosed, closed-loop system with an environmentally controlled growth chamber, said Bryan Onate, project manager at NASA's Kennedy Space Centre.
It uses red, blue and green LED lights, and broad spectrum white LED lights.
The system's more than 180 sensors will relay real-time information, including temperature, oxygen content and moisture levels (in the air and soil, near the plant roots, and at the stem and leaf level), back to the team at Kennedy.
"A big difference in this system, compared to Veggie, is that it requires minimal crew involvement to install the science, add water, and perform other maintenance activities," Onate said.
The large, enclosed chamber measures 18 inches square, with two inches for the root system and 16 inches available for growth height.
It is designed to support commercial and fundamental plant research or other bioscience research aboard the space station for up to a 135-day science investigation, and for at least one year of continuous operation without maintenance.
Some of the components of the new system have arrived at NASA's Kennedy Space Centre and are being prepared for delivery to the station on Orbital ATK's seventh commercial resupply mission to the station targeted to launch on March 19.
"A team of scientists here at Kennedy Space Centre have been developing the procedures for the first experiment using a prototype, or engineering development unit, of the plant habitat in the Space Station Processing Facility," said Howard Levine, the project scientist overseeing the development of the advanced system.
"I think that the new plant growth habitat will provide tremendous capabilities to do high quality plant physiology research with a variety of plant types on the space station," said Gioia Massa, a life science project scientist and deputy project scientist.
"The plant habitat will enable much more controlled and detailed studies of plant growth in spaceflight," said Massa.
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