LED lights to grow salad for astronauts

Astronauts on the International Space Station harvested and ate a variety of red romaine lettuce that they activated and grew in a plant growth system using LED lights

LED GROW lights are set to be used to grow tomatoes and fresh salad leaves to feed astronauts on board the International Space Station, Nasa has revealed.

The test centre at Kennedy  Space Center in Florida where researchers have been experimenting with tuned LED lighting.

Researchers have created a growth chamber at Kennedy Space Center in Florida to tune the LED lighting system to provide the optimal conditions when the system eventually gets installed on the ISS.

The team are adjusting the lighting conditions to optimise plant growth in various conditions and then replicate those settings in the Advanced Plant Habitat on the International Space Station, meeting the sophisticated needs of space food production.

Via radiation with light of different wavelengths, the growth cycles of plants can be controlled and accelerated, allowing the plants to be harvested either more often or as required. Special light recipes optimise not only yield and growing time but also can increase the amount of vitamins and nutrients in the plant, and can enhance certain tastes and flavours. LEDs not only provide tailor-made bioactive lighting, but are also very efficient.

The Osram Phytofy RL system includes a UV channel which provides researchers with the ability to add a brief UV light to see how plants react and change. It also includes an irradiance map so that the scientists don’t need to measure irradiance separately before changing the light setting.

In recent years, Nasa has been exploring the possibilities of food crops grown in controlled environments for long-duration missions to deep-space destinations such as Mars. A team led by Nasa plant physiologist Ray Wheeler has been studying ways to grow safe, fresh food crops efficiently off the Earth.

Most recently, astronauts on the International Space Station harvested and ate a variety of red romaine lettuce that they activated and grew in a plant growth system called Veggie.

‘Many of the world’s coolest and most beneficial inventions have come from scientists at Nasa over the past several decades, and to play a role in empowering further innovation through the use of our technologies is an honour,’ said Steve Graves of Osram.

The International Space Station looks set to incorporate a ‘vertical farm’ where various plants are grown in optimal conditions to provide the astronauts with fresh produce. Pic: Nasa

  • Horticultural lighting is one of the sessions at the forthcoming Lighting Fixture Design conference. It takes place on Wednesday 20 June and Thursday 21 June 2018. Organised by Lux and LEDs Magazine, the event takes place at the Cavendish Conference Centre in London. For more information and to reserve you place, click HERE.


All pictures: Nasa