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Source: Bruce Moffett

UK vertical Farming company Vertical Future is developing a fully autonomous deep space growing facility to feed astronauts making missions between the moon and Mars.

Vertical Future is being backed by the UK Space Agency on the project – likened to “the plotline of The Martian” – and has assembled international experts to work on the project. The company claims it will be the first UK-based company working in the agri-space sector.

“Astronauts typically lack access to a varied diet whilst in space, which this project is working to solve by providing a wide variety of high-quality produce that can be grown on a space vessel,” explained Dr Jennifer Bromley, chief scientific officer at Vertical Future.

“Several studies have shown that having access to high-quality fresh produce is important not just for one’s nutrition but also mental wellbeing. While this project may sound like the plotline of The Martian, it is important to develop new and innovative ways for astronauts to survive and thrive in their ventures to not just the moon but also Mars and beyond,” she added.

The first phase of the project will focus on the design requirements of the Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) facility, which will need to be monitored and operated remotely or by artificial intelligence.

Read more: World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit: when is it and what’s happening?

The team – which includes experts from Axiom Space, Saber Astronautics, the University of Southern Queensland, Plants for Space research partners at the University of Adelaide and the University of Cambridge – will attend workshops at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center to better understand the challenges of deep space and on board the International Space Station (ISS).

The second phase of the project will focus on implementing the CEA system on the ISS and the commercial space station currently being developed by Axiom Space to replace it when it reaches end of life.

“Sending plants to space is key to survival in long-duration space travel and plans for future settlement,” said Dr Jason Held, CEO of Saber Astronautics. “Making plants thrive in space will take a mix of experts in botany, engineering, and operations to make it happen.”

As well as on board the ISS and its replacement, the ambition is for the CEA to be utilised as part of future NASA Artemis missions, which have a long-term goal to establish a permanent base on the moon from where explorers will make human missions to Mars.

Bromley added that the “life-changing technology” and findings resulting from the project will have more immediate, terrestrial impact too.

“As we have seen with many other technological advances thanks to the space industry, we will be able to apply our findings here on Earth,” she said.