In a bid to prepare crews to grow their own food in space during deep-space exploration missions, NASA said it will send this month a new, nearly self-sufficient plant growth system to the International Space Station.
The Advanced Plant Habitat (APH) will be used to conduct plant bioscience research on the space station to help researchers better understand how plants grow in space.
Some of the components of this new system have arrived at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida and are being prepared for delivery to the station on Orbital ATK's seventh commercial resupply mission to the station scheduled for launch on March 19, NASA said.
The new plant system will join Veggie — NASA's first fresh food growth system already active on station.
"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," said NASA Advanced Plant Habitat project manager Bryan Onate.
"We are learning how plants grow in space and what levels of commodities, such as light and water, are required so we can maximise our growth with the least resources," Onate said.
The new plant habitat is a fully enclosed, closed-loop system with an environmentally controlled growth chamber, he added.
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 Space Center in Florida.