The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Canadian Space Agency have launched phase 2 of the Deep Space Challenge, a competition with a $1 million prize for the development of prototypes of food production technologies that can sustain astronauts during long journeys in space.
The Deep Space Food Challenge requires competitors to create a food production technology, system, or approach that could be integrated into a complete food system to sustain a crew of four on a three-year deep space mission. Everything needed to store, prepare and deliver food to the crew, including production, processing, transport, consumption, and disposal of waste should be considered, according to NASA.
“Feeding astronauts over long periods within the constraints of space travel will require innovative solutions,” says Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. “Pushing the boundaries of food technology will keep future explorers healthy and could even help feed people here at home.”
The Deep Space Challenge is in the second phase of NASA’s project to develop technologies and systems to sustain astronauts during deep space journeys. Phase 1 of the challenge ended in October 2021 with NASA awarding 18 teams a total of $450,000 for their concepts.
In phase 1, NASA’s judges grouped US submissions based on the food to be produced. Among the designs were systems that ranged from complex to very simple. Teams proposed technologies to produce ready-to-eat foods such as bread, as well as dehydrated powders that could be processed into finished products. Other technologies involved cultivated plants and fungi or engineered food such as cultured meat cells, all of which could be grown or produced by the crew on deep space missions.
For example, Astra Gastronomy was a phase 1 winner. The San Francisco-based company proposed growing, dehydrating and forming nutritious, fast growing microalgae into bite-size snacks mixed with nuts and other ingredients.
Bigredbites, Ithaca, NY, another winner, proposed the development of a symbiotic system of cyanobacteria, yeast, mushrooms, and plants, with a processing unit to yield fresh and nutritious produce to meet 15% of daily caloric requirements. Technologies like 3D printed artificial soil and symbiotic co-dependence would enable maximum utilization of each subsystem’s waste and minimal external inputs.
And Nolux, Riverside, Calif., proposed an artificial photosynthetic system capable of producing plant- and fungal-based foods independent of biological photosynthesis.
Now innovators are being invited to enter phase 2, which will include both new and existing teams from phase 1. Participants from the United States can compete for part of a prize purse of up to $1 million from NASA. The Canadian Space Agency is hosting a parallel competition with a separate application and judging process, as well as its own prize purse, for participating Canadian teams. Qualifying teams from other countries may compete but will not be eligible for monetary prizes, according to NASA.
The deadline for entry to phase 2 of the competition is Feb. 28 and registration information may be found at deepspacefoodchallenge.org.