NASA and the Canadian Space Agency have launched the deep Space Food Challenge, the second phase of which offers up to $1 million to the best team.
The challenge aims to solicit innovative, scientific and sustainable solutions to food systems, and requires both resource utilization and food safety to meet the “dual standards”. In other words, space food should not only use the least resources and produce the least waste, but also provide astronauts with safe, balanced and delicious space food.
Due to the special conditions of space, astronauts will lose their appetite and taste sensitivity in the weightless environment. In addition, their bodies may suffer from osteoporosis and other changes, and they have a high demand for timely nutrition supplement. In particular, they are usually on space missions for a certain amount of time, so their nutritious meals on the space station are important “logistical support.”
Space food has been upgraded from toothpaste-like “squeeze” food to space cans and vacuum packs. Usually, astronauts carry food with them for a limited time. In addition, considering the possible impact of food residues floating in the space environment, there are certain requirements for the form of food, such as solid, all edible, no residue, no excessive kitchen waste.
With the development of technology and the acceleration of Mars missions and lunar exploration projects in recent years, new food systems need to be developed urgently.
“We are looking for innovative solutions to provide long-term food for astronauts within the constraints of the space environment. Pushing the boundaries of food technology will keep future astronauts healthy.” Jim Root, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.
With four astronauts on a three-year mission to provide adequate security, the DEEP Space Food Challenge asks participants to provide a new food production technology, system or method that can be integrated into the complete food system. And fully integrated food storage, preparation and transportation, including production, processing, transportation, consumption and waste treatment.
In the first stage of each food system design, the participating teams’ technology is “unique”. In terms of the variety of food, the technology to produce ready-to-eat food such as bread, and dehydrated powder that can be processed into food; In terms of food storage, the preservation period of food may be extended to five years; Other technologies involve 3D-printed soil for growing plants, fungi or engineered food, such as growing meat cells, using food-grade microbes and 3D printing to convert carbon dioxide and waste streams directly into food.
Moreover, the above technologies are easy to operate, sustainable and executable for astronauts. Judging from the technologies of the winning teams in the first phase of the challenge, future food in space may be less dependent on the environment and resource supply, with more food sources, more variety of food through convenient technology, and better taste and personality.
The challenge will begin in January 2021, and the first phase of the challenge will be completed in October 2021. In order to encourage more teams to join the competition and demonstrate the possibility of more emerging technologies, the financial incentives are fully set up. In the first phase of the challenge, 18 US teams were awarded a total of us $450,000 by NASA for innovative food production technology concepts.
In addition, NASA and the Canadian Space Agency jointly recognized 10 international teams for their award-winning technologies. To further support innovative technologies, the Challenge’s supporting partner, Methuselah Foundation, has awarded two $25,000 awards to international teams, while the Canadian Space Agency has awarded an additional $30,000 to each of the 10 teams.
The combination of these plant-growing systems, processed foods and ready-to-eat solutions not only has the potential to provide more diverse options for future astronauts. The new food system technology also has the potential to be a special experience for passengers who want to travel into space, which is becoming increasingly popular.
This new food system technology will be needed as a solution to increase food production not only in the space environment, but also in the earth environment, where food is rebuilt after disasters such as floods or droughts, or where food shortages are caused by adverse changes. Vertical agriculture, urban agriculture, and other new food production areas will also need this new food system technology as a solution to increase food production.
“These new food system can bring benefits for our home,” NASA’s international space station program director and challenge the judges robin carstens says, “cope with the challenges of the solution can key infrastructure for scarce resources and disasters in the area of global food production area in new ways.”