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

Ford’s bipedal delivery robot can walk straight up to your doorstep

Autonomous wheeled delivery robots are seemingly everywhere in 2019. Agility Robotics' Digit robot takes a different approach: It promises to carry out its deliveries while walking on two legs.
Emerging Tech

This plane-pulling robo-dog makes Boston Dynamics’ Spot look scrawny

A robot dog created by researchers at Italy’s Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia showed off its impressive ability to pull a three-ton airplane down a runway. Check it out in action.
Emerging Tech

Scientists use an X-ray laser to create the loudest possible underwater sound

Researchers from Stanford University and the Department of Energy have produced the loudest sound possible to make under water. Here's how they managed to create it — and why they did it.
Emerging Tech

Impossible’s new plant-based sausage is here, but only at Little Caesar’s

Impossible Foods has teamed up with Little Caesars restaurants to create a new plant-based sausage pizza topping. Get ready for ... The Impossible Sausage. Here's where you can try it.
Emerging Tech

The moon is shrinking as it loses heat, new images reveal

New research suggests the Moon is shrinking. NASA scientists have used data from their Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera to look at wrinkles in the surface of the Moon which are formed as it loses heat and shrinks in size.
Emerging Tech

This guy managed to squeeze an entire game console into a Game Boy cartridge

Popular YouTuber 3DSage has managed to compress an entire mobile games console inside a single original Game Boy cartridge. Check it out in all in its impressively miniaturized glory.
Emerging Tech

I mainlined a bag of liquid vitamins — for science

Healthy people are signing up for treatments that are typically saved for patients stuck in hospital beds. Known as nutrient IV therapy, the treatment entails pumping vitamins, minerals, and fluids directly into the bloodstream, bypassing…
Digital Trends Live

Digital Trends Live: Huawei updates, Starlink launch, and Pac-Man’s birthday

On this episode of DT Live, we discuss the ongoing Huawei saga, Amazon’s social games for workers, Ford's partnership with a robotics company, the Starlink satellite launch, Pac-Man’s birthday, and more.
Emerging Tech

Las Vegas officials bet big on Elon Musk’s Boring Company

Elon Musk’s Boring Company has just been awarded a $48.6 million contract by Las Vegas to build a high-speed transportation system beneath the city’s enormous convention center, and it could be ready by early 2020.
Emerging Tech

Airbus shows off the futuristic interior of its autonomous flying taxi

Airbus has given us the first look inside its single-seat flying taxi. The absence of controls in the Vahana electric aircraft is a reflection of its autonomous capabilities, so you can just sit back and enjoy the ride.
Emerging Tech

Future smart clothes promise to keep you the perfect temperature at all times

Regulating your body temperature can sometimes be tough. Engineers from UC San Diego have developed heating and cooling wearable tech which could be embedded into future smart clothing.
Emerging Tech

Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa 2 aborts marker drop mission

The Hayabusa 2 spacecraft's mission to drop a reflective marker on the surface of asteroid Ryugu has been aborted. The Japanese team was considering a second touchdown on the asteroid to collect more materials, but this now seems unlikely.
Emerging Tech

Whose name should we etch on the Mars 2020 rover? NASA wants a vote

Dream of making it to Mars? NASA has opened up a new public outreach program to let people send their names to the Red Planet, as an engraving on a silicon chip launched with the Mars 2020 rover.
Emerging Tech

Watch live as SpaceX tries, for the third time, to launch 60 Starlink satellites

SpaceX is having another go at launching the first 60 satellites for its ultra-ambitious Starlink internet constellation. Here's how you can tune in live to watch it all go down today.