Space garden to grow food crops aboard ISS

An automated “space garden”, that’s expected to advance the understanding of how to grow crops in space, has been installed aboard the International Space Station.

Jointly developed by engineers from NASA and Sierra Nevada Corporation, the so-called Advanced Plant Habitat (APH) will be used to grow plants in microgravity, test new technologies and conduct controlled science experiments, which are expected to be key in making agriculture and fresh food more prominent in extended space exploration.

Around the size of a small kitchen oven, the APH closely controls and regulates parameters such as temperature, humidity, light levels, photoperiods, moisture provided to specimens, CO2 levels, ethylene levels and air flow. The APH system uses red, blue, green and a broad spectrum of white LED lights.

Among other plants, Arabidopsis seeds will be grown, which are small flowering plants related to cabbage and mustard. Changes in this plant type are easily observed, making it a very useful model.

Data gathered from 180 sensors within the habitat will be relayed back in-real time to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC).

“Knowing how to grow fresh food and plants to process air and water for life support is critical to the future of humans being able to live in space for long periods of time,” said Tom Crabb, vice president of SNC’s ORBITEC business unit.