Regenerative space life support will undoubtedly require food production, to recover nutrients and close the carbon loop in a spacecraft habitat. Aquatic plants have enormous potential for edible biomass production but have been little studied as potential food crops for space applications. The proposed μG-LilyPond™ is an autonomous environmentally controlled floating plant cultivation system for use in microgravity. The μG-LilyPond™ concept expands the types of crops that can be grown on a spacecraft to include aquatic floating plants as a nutritional supplement for the crew diet. Innovative features include low maintenance, increased reliability with passive water delivery, volume efficiency, full life cycle support via vegetative propagation, close canopy lighting, and crop versatility. Biomass produced will be used primarily as food but could also be used for biofuel or fertilizer. This collaborative effort between Space Lab Technologies, University of Colorado, and Refcon Services, Inc. will combine Phase II design, analysis, prototype fabrication, and testing to demonstrate technology function and prepare for flight prototype demonstration in the space environment. Phase II will begin with the Phase I conceptual design and analyses and culminate in the detailed design, fabrication and testing of an integrated engineering demonstration unit (EDU). In addition, we will develop a flight prototype of the water transport loop, built to operate in a relevant microgravity environment, for use in future flight opportunities. Finally equivalent system mass of the proposed μG-LilyPond™ concept will be established for the detailed EDU design. Phase I conceptual design and feasibility assessment illuminated several important focus areas for Phase II, and well positioned our team to accomplish our proposed objectives.
μG-LilyPond™ will provide supplemental fresh food for microgravity spacecraft habitats, at reduced cost for infrastructure, power, consumables, and crew time. Space Lab’s Phase III goal is the development of a flight ready μG-LilyPond™ unit to be flown on the ISS or other orbiting research facilities for operational demonstration. There are also many innovative technologies within the growth chamber that could be valuable to several NASA programs, including the capillary growth bed, close canopy LED lighting, rotary sieve harvester, and environmental control algorithms. Each of these technologies are vital components of integrated chamber but can also be modular elements incorporated into other research platforms. The growth chamber and its modular technologies have the potential for infusion into several NASA programs, including the Advanced Exploration Systems program under HEOMD for bioregenerative food production or synthetic biology applications (biofuel). The growth chamber could also serve as an improved research platform for gravitational biology under SLPSRA. The modular technologies could also be incorporated into existing life science research facilities. SLPSRA could use the capillary driven water re-cycling loop as a research platform for fluid physics. HRP could utilize our growth chamber to research the in-flight production of vitamins, protein, and n3 fatty acids. μG-LilyPond™ could also be utilized on the ISS as a plant biology research facility.
Water Lentils as a Food Ingredient/Nutritional Supplement: LilyPond Water Lentils are a whole food ingredient that can be used in high protein nutritional supplements, food products like baked goods, or even as a fresh vegetable, sold either fresh or freeze dried to food product manufacturers and nutritional supplement providers. With a specially optimized growth process, we can provide a water lentil product with higher nutritional density and yield than other water lentils on the market today. Agricultural Equipment/Supplies for Indoor Duckweed Vertical Farming: When we have established a market demand for our innovative, nutritionally dense plant product, we can then start selling our customized agricultural equipment and proprietary environmental control software to other horticulturists. Close Canopy Lighting for Indoor Vertical Farming: Other potential commercial markets may exist for μG-LilyPond sub-system technologies, developed to optimize duckweed cultivation for autonomy and efficiency. For instance, the lighting system might be marketed to plant biology researchers. It will allow fine tuning of the light spectrum and high intensity output, with highly efficient LEDs in a relatively small panel. Space Lab has discussed this innovation with plant biologists who suggested we might market the lighting panel as a way to retrofit old growth chambers with outdated lighting systems.