NASA and German scientists are joining forces to launch the first experimental space farming satellite into orbit, with the goal of one day providing space crews with reliable sources of fresh food.
The satellite, to be launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in July 2017, will allow for experiments in both Martian and lunar gravity, according to NASA, as well as with other simulated space conditions.
"Ultimately, we are simulating and testing greenhouses that could be assembled inside a lunar or Martian habitat to provide the crew with a local source of fresh food," said German Aerospace Center biologist Dr. Jens Hauslage in a press release, The Daily Caller reported. "The system would do this by managing the controlled conversion of waste into fertilizer."
While in space, tomato seeds will germinate and start growing into plants, Space.com reported. The plants' growth will be monitored with 16 cameras, and the experimental farm will include microorganisms to produce synthetic urine, which will then be converted into fertilizer.
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The farm satellite will also use artificial lighting to simulate the day/night cycle on Earth, along with a pressure tank that simulates the Earth's atmosphere.
In addition, the microorganisms will also create microbes to produce oxygen in order to protect the budding plants against excess ammonia.
The use of urine as a fertilizer source would simulate what would be happening on the moon or on Mars, where astronauts would need to use their own bodily waste for fertilizer while growing fresh food. Tomatoes growing during a trip to Mars would also be exposed to cosmic radiation, Hauslage said.