If you watched “The Martian”, you are already familiar with the concept of “plants in space.” The main character, played by Matt Damon, successfully harvested potatoes on Mars to feed himself.
Just a fantasy? Not at all.
The Research Center for the Control of Ecological Systems is already studying the creation of plants with a controlled environment, as well as the ability to grow plants in space.
- biofiltration of indoor air.
- disinfection methods that do not leave toxic residues.
- the ideal choice of candidates as a power source for long-term missions in space exploration.
- pressure reduction to develop low-mass “inflatable” greenhouses for the Moon and Mars.
- environmental control of light, CO2, temperature, humidity, nutrients and water.
Among the latest technologies to achieve crop production are LEDs as the source of photosynthetic energy. Their efficiency and intensity allow us to consider LEDs as an additional or even the only source of illumination for plants. LEDs are endowed with a unique narrow-wave range of light, representing a small portion of the solar spectrum. There are many examples of LEDs that almost fill the spectrum of visible light and beyond, including UV bands and IR rays.
So far, scientists have little knowledge of how plants respond to different wavelengths and some combination of light wavelengths.
Better than the Sun
LEDs allow you to design a spectrum and evaluate the response of a plant to some unusual color combinations.
Salad grown in three different light spectra. There are differences in accumulated biomass and pigments in the leaves. These plants differ from each other, which indicates a side reaction of metabolites to the color of light.
Among the various environmental variables, the most powerful for vegetation is lighting. New attributes in LEDs will even surpass the sun exposure. There is a variant of the modification of the content of metabolic compounds that affect the color, taste and healing properties of plants.
The main direction is the inexpensive production of reproducible high-quality medicinal compounds. Moreover, the range of products in the sector is constantly growing. Among them are cancer drugs, vaccines for viral pathogens, antibodies and cannabis. But let's not forget that technology still faces errors. For example, the early use of LEDs for cannabis did not work.
Researchers try to take into account the experience of past mistakes and improve their technology. So scientists are collaborating with the phyto-pharmaceutical sector, the medical cannabis department, LEDs and the controlled environment sector in order to clarify control recipes for growing plants for medicinal purposes.
Work is also underway to create better methods of servicing these industries. Recently, Donald Trump expressed support for the idea of mastering the Moon and Mars, so soon we can expect to promote research on growing plants in space.