Deep Space Food Challenge: Striving to Find Food Alternatives for Space Travelers 

By Yashika Sharma

June 12, 2023

The Deep Space Food Challenge, an international competition led by NASA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), has reached an exciting phase as the finalists for this prestigious event have been evinced1.

With the aim of revolutionizing sustenance for long-duration space missions and addressing food insecurity on Earth, these innovative teams from around the world have developed novel food technologies and systems. 

Collaboration of NASA and CSA

The Deep Space Food Challenge represents a joint effort between NASA and CSA. While NASA offers prize purse awards to U.S. teams, international teams are recognized for their contributions.

Canadian applicants are invited to apply through the Impact Canada website, while U.S. and international applicants can apply through the dedicated U.S. website. 

Although both agencies have distinct rules, prizes, and eligibility criteria, they synchronize certain activities and share a challenge statement, goals, and assessment criteria.

It is worth noting that each agency operates independently and assumes no responsibility for the other.

The Stage-Gated Approach

The Deep Space Food Challenge follows a stage-gated approach, where different financial and non-financial incentives are available to successful participants at each phase. 

Solutions are rigorously reviewed against assessment criteria, and selected winners are invited to progress to the subsequent phases, representing a journey of continuous innovation and advancement.

Addressing Challenges in Space and on Earth

The competition recognizes the need to address the food demands of long-duration space missions. 

While there are numerous food systems on Earth that hold potential benefits for space travelers, their suitability for spaceflight requirements is yet to be established. 

Future lunar missions continue to evolve and mature, necessitating a focus on providing future lunar crews with safe, nutritious food during lunar orbit and surface missions.

Moreover, the Deep Space Food Challenge acknowledges the chronic problem of food insecurity on Earth, prevalent in urban, rural, and harsh environments and communities.

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Disasters can further exacerbate food shortages by disrupting the supply chains that people rely on. 

So, the development of food production technologies that efficiently utilize resources, such as volume, water, and inputs, can have a transformative impact, especially in extreme environments and resource-scarce regions.

Phase 2 Finalists

The Deep Space Food Challenge has attracted over 300 teams from 32 countries, showcasing the global enthusiasm for innovative food systems. 

In Phase 1, 28 teams were awarded, and now 11 new teams have qualified to join the challenge in Phase 2. Let’s take a closer look at some of the remarkable finalists and their approaches.

Air Company (Brooklyn, New York)

Air Company’s manufactured food solution involves capturing carbon dioxide exhaled by astronauts from the air.

This captured carbon dioxide is combined with hydrogen through water electrolysis, producing alcohol. The alcohol is then fed to a type of edible yeast, which efficiently converts it into proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.

Enigma of the Cosmos (Melbourne, Australia)

Enigma of the Cosmos has developed a growth system focused on leafy and microgreen food production. 

Their adaptive growing platform utilizes a telescopic grow channel system that supports the natural growth cycle of plants.

By adjusting the growth area according to the plant’s needs, the system maximizes growing space efficiency by a minimum of 40%.

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Far Out Foods (Saint Paul, Minnesota)

Far Out Foods presents the Exo-Garden, a nearly closed-loop self-contained food production system.

This innovative system is capable of producing a variety of fresh mushrooms and hydroponic vegetables, addressing the need for diverse and nutritious food sources.

InFynity (Chicago, Illinois)

InFynity’s bio-culture/hybrid approach focuses on producing high-protein, nutritious, and delicious foods using microbial biomass. 

Their novel bioreactor design allows for sustainable operation both in space and on Earth, emphasizing the importance of environmentally friendly food production.

Interstellar Lab (Cape Canaveral, Florida)

Interstellar Lab presents NUCLEUS, a modular bio-regenerative system aimed at producing a variety of fresh foods for long-term space missions. 

This self-sustaining food production system utilizes autonomous phytotrons to cultivate microgreens, vegetables, mushrooms, and insects, providing astronauts with vital micronutrients while minimizing resource inputs. 

NUCLEUS also holds promise for sustainable food production in resource-scarce environments on Earth.

Kernel Deltech (Cape Canaveral, Florida)

Kernel Deltech’s Kernel Food Production System offers an autonomous approach to producing fungal biomass for food production. 

With precise control over cultivation variables, this system maximizes biomass yield and product safety, even in low-gravity conditions.

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The Kernel Food Production System ensures a reliable and efficient source of food for space missions.

Mu Mycology (Hillsboro, Oregon)

Mu Mycology presents Forever Fungi, a closed-loop modular system for continuous growth and harvest of various edible fungal fruiting bodies. 

This innovative liquid media mushroom cultivation system offers a sustainable solution for long-duration space missions and potential applications in food production on Earth.

Forever Fungi provides a continuous supply of nutritious food while minimizing resource requirements.

Mycorena (Gothenburg, Sweden)

Mycorena has developed a highly-nutritious fungal protein that closely resembles the taste and texture of meat. Their system enables dry rehydration for easy transport, on-site production in low-gravity conditions, and the use of organic waste streams as carbon sources.

Nolux (Riverside, California)

Nolux has created an artificial photosynthetic system capable of producing plant- and fungal-based foods independently of biological photosynthesis. This innovative approach offers new possibilities for sustainable food production.

SATED (Boulder, Colorado)

SATED (Safe Appliance, Tidy, Efficient & Delicious) specializes in creating delicious, customizable foods using long-shelf-life and in-situ grown ingredients, their device operates safely in zero and low-gravity environments.

Solar Foods (Lappeenranta, Finland)

Their method involves single-cell protein production through gas fermentation, providing an alternative source of nutritious food.

The Deep Space Food Challenge represents an extraordinary collaborative endeavor to revolutionize food systems for space missions and tackle food insecurity on Earth. 

The Phase 2 finalists have showcased remarkable innovations and solutions, ranging from manufactured foods to growth systems and bio-culture/hybrid approaches. 

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These visionary teams offer the promise of safe, nutritious, and sustainable food production, paving the way for a future where long-duration space missions and communities facing food scarcity can thrive. 

References

  1. Deep Space Food Challange‘, Deep Space Food Challange, https://www.deepspacefoodchallenge.org[]
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