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Superfood for space: New method and system for automated cultivation of Wolffia globosa in human spaceflight



Prime contractor
Organisational Unit
Implementation progress
13 January 2021

Duration: 36 months


For human interplanetary missions, the ideal plant in BLSS should have high nutritional value, no inedible biomass, fast growth, high adaptability to the space environment and an easily controllable cultivation system. At present, none of the crop species satisfies all these requirements. The aquatic species Wolffia globosa is the smallest flowering plant (0.4-0.8 mm). The adult has no root, two micro-leaves and a micro-flower. This species has one of the fastest growth rates (1–2 days for biomass doubling) and short seed-to-seed cycle. Together with other relevant components, the protein content (21-25%) is much higher than in soybeans and the fat content (3-4%) is represented by 60% polyunsaturated acids. These properties are earning interest for cultivation as superfood on Earth. Likewise, considering the outstanding performances, we suggest W. globosa as a favorable candidate for space cultivation. Our proposal aims to define the requirements of a novel automated cultivation system of W. globosa that can maximize the performances and nutritional values of the plant within the constraints of the space environment. The cultivation process will be monitored using miniaturized commercial-off-the-shelf sensors. All parameters will be analyzed real time with specific software aiming at controlling the edible biomass production. Results will be used to define the scientific requirements of a spaceflight experiment and the preliminary design of a cultivation system for future lunar missions. Laboratory activities will be performed on ground at the University of Naples. Additional experiments will be proposed to ESA LDC, drop tower and/or parabolic flight platforms. A private company will support on sensing technology and software development for remote control, given the interest in downstream application of the acquired know-how for future industrial cultivations on Earth. ESA SciSpacE Team has expressed interest in pursuing this idea and intent of mentoring this study.

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Superfood for space: New method and system for automated cultivation of Wolffia globosa in human spaceflight