Artificial soil made from lava rock allows growing of food in space

Fresh greens in space? Recent research has looked into how plants respond to low levels of gravity and a particular hormone which can help plants grow in challenging space conditions. Now, new research has succeeded in growing plants in high-tech planters which use artificial soil made from lava rock.

artifical soil planters food in space 189570 web 1
Plants in climate-regulated growth chambers Silje Wolff, NTNU Social Research (CIRiS)

The goal of the research is to eventually find a way for plants to grow directly in water, with nutrients supplied through the water instead of through soil. Soil is obviously in short supply in space so it’s important to find a way to get nutrients to plants without relying on earth. At the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Space (CIRiS), part of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) Social Research department, the team has collaborated with researchers from France and Italy to find ways to cultivate plant-based foods in space.

The CIRiS has been testing the high-tech planters made by the NTNU’s technical workshop, which regulate the water, nutrients, gas, and air that plants require. In climate-regulated growth chambers in the Netherlands, the team has been investigating how plants use nitrogen in particular and how the levels of nutrients available affect the amount of water that the plants consume.

“We found that plants can, in a way, ‘smell’ the amount of nutrients available to them,” Silje Wolff, a plant physiologist at CIRiS, explains. “When the nitrogen concentration is very low, the plant will absorb more water and thus more nitrogen until it reaches an optimal level. The plant has a mechanism that turns on when the nitrogen level is adequate. Then it adjusts both nitrogen and water absorption down.”

But another challenge to growing plants in space remains: until the exact mechanisms through which plants adjust to microgravity are understood, the plants still need gravity to grow. The solution for now is to place plants into a centrifuge inside a space station which simulates gravity which the plants sprout and grow.

The research team hopes that their findings will not only be relevant to space expeditions, but could also be used to optimize crop growth here on Earth, especially in places with nutrient-poor soil or within cities without much soil available. “Recycling and precise fertilization are key to achieving more sustainable food production,” Wolff says. “By growing plants directly in water with dissolved nutrients, fertilization and irrigation are much easier to control.”

Emerging Tech

Amazing app promises a full fitness checkup from a 30-second selfie

Researchers at the University of Toronto have developed an app that's able to gather vital health information about users with nothing more invasive than a 30-second selfie. Here's how it works.
Emerging Tech

Astro the dog-inspired quadruped robot can sit, lie down, and… learn?

Move over Spot! Researchers from Florida Atlantic University have built a new dog robot called Astro. Thanks to deep learning technology, it promises to be able to learn just like a real dog.

Notepad has a major security flaw that leaves Windows PCs vulnerable to hackers

A Google Project Zero security researcher has discovered a major security flaw involving Windows PCs and Notepad. The flaw can allow hackers to take over entire computers. Microsoft has released a patch for the flaw.
Emerging Tech

Europe’s free land could house enough wind turbines to power the world

Think wind turbines aren't a realistic means of powering the world? An international team of researchers have worked out that there is enough available land in Europe to do the job.
Health & Fitness

We spit in a ton of test tubes to find the best and most unique DNA tests

DNA tests aren’t just limited to ancestry. You can test for your risks for certain diseases, the best workouts and diets for your health and fitness, and more.
Emerging Tech

Artificial tree promises to suck up as much air pollution as a small forest

Startup Biomitech has developed an artificial tree that it claims is capable of sucking up as much air pollution as 368 real trees. It could be a game-changer for cities with limited free space.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Racing drones and robotic ping pong trainers

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Mars 2020 rover now has a rotating array of drill bits for sampling Martian rock

Most the key components in the Mars 2020 rover are installed and ready to go. The next phase of construction was to install the bit carousel, an important mechanism for the gathering and sorting of samples from the Martian surface.
Emerging Tech

NASA selects landing site candidates for OSIRIS-Rex to sample asteroid Bennu

Last year, the OSIRIS-REx craft arrived at asteroid Bennu, from which it will collect a sample from the asteroid to be brought back to Earth. Now, the NASA team has selected four potential sites to choose from for the sampling mission.
Emerging Tech

NASA wants to send two more missions to Mars to collect rock samples

With its Mars 2020 mission, NASA hopes to collect samples from the surface of the planet. The challenge is how to get those samples back to Earth. Now, NASA has revealed its plans for two followup missions to Mars.
Emerging Tech

Eric Geusz: Apple engineer by day, spaceship designer by night

An Apple software engineer by day, artist Eric Geusz spends his nights drawing everyday household objects as amazing, science fiction-style spaceships. Check out the impressive results.
Emerging Tech

The black hole at the center of our galaxy is flaring and no one knows why

At the heart of our galaxy lies a supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A*. Normally this giant monster is relatively docile, but recently it's been a hotbed of unexpected activity, rapidly glowing 75 times brighter than normal.
Emerging Tech

SpaceIL’s crashed lander may have sent thousands of tardigrades to the moon

When the SpaceIL craft Beresheet crashed into the moon earlier this year, it left more than just an impact mark. Thousands of micro-animals called tardigrades were along for the ride and may have survived the crash.
Emerging Tech

NASA’s satellite projects will study the sun using solar sailing

Small satellites can be used for all sorts of purposes, and NASA has been searching for ideas to push ahead the capabilities of the hardware. The agency has announced two new projects to demonstrate the potential of small satellites.