A plant growth chamber on the International Space Station could help expand in-orbit food production capabilities, and offer astronauts something they don’t take for granted: fresh food.
NASA’s VEG-01 experiment studies the in-orbit function and performance of a new expandable plant growth facility called Veggie and its plant “pillows.” The investigation is focusing on the growth and development of “Outredgeous” lettuce seedlings. The VEG- 01 science team refined the pillow concept, and selected growth media and fertilizers, plant species, materials, and protocols for using the pillow concept in Veggie to grow healthy plants that can provide crew with food and recreation.
The pillow concept is designed to be low mass, modular, require no additional energy, and be very low-maintenance. Pillows of different sizes have been designed to accommodate a wide variety of plant types and different types of growing media.
Veggie is a low-cost plant growth chamber that uses a flat-panel light bank that includes red, blue, and green LEDs for plant growth and crew observation. Veggie’s unique design is collapsible for transport and storage, and expandable up to a foot and a half as plants grow inside it. Orbital Technologies Corporation (ORBITEC) in Madison, WI, developed Veggie through a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant.
Astronauts have already harvested crops of red romaine lettuce plants that were grown from seed inside the Veggie facility. The plants ultimately will be returned to Earth to determine food safety.