In the first few weeks of early 2021, several major venture capital firms, and even major corporations, invested in new ways of producing food. A range of climate and sustainable development funds have focused their investments on innovative areas such as renewable agriculture and sustainable food.
It is not far-fetched to think of space as the frontier of agriculture. The International Space Station already has a vegetable production system. It's not a big system, but it could help us study how plants grow in microgravity and provide nutrition for astronauts.
The problem, however, is that while the vegetable production system weighs about 16 pounds, it costs between $145,600 and $690,900 to ship to the International Space Station, according to an estimate by Business Insider.
Cost is not the only problem. There are also space-related constraints such as microgravity, lack of refrigeration and water resources, so the option of foods are quite limited.
Despite the challenges, finding more sustainable food production systems for space activities will be an effort of both immediate and long-term interest. The industry generally believes that vertical agriculture offers a viable solution to this problem. Controlled environment facility agriculture promotes the growth of vegetables, herbs and even some fruits in a limited space. In addition, vertical farms are optimized for year-round production and are less susceptible to extreme environmental conditions.
Second, because vertical farming tends to be closed systems, water used for planting can be filtered and recycled with maximize efficiency, while sensors and software can also regulate water consumption. Artificial intelligence can make farms highly automated, thus greatly increasing productivity.
Vertical agriculture may sound like a lot of advantages, but like many things, it has its drawbacks, such as intensive cost inputs and limited scope. Unless progress is made on both fronts, it will be challenging to consider vertical agriculture on any scale in space.
With long-term cost reductions driven by technology, as well as increased yields, vertical farming will contribute to its success. We believe that vertical agriculture into space is not too far away!