Sierra Nevada, NASA partner to develop life support, food systems

Friday February 2, 2018 0 comments Tags: Louisville, Sierra Nevada Corporation, NASA, NextSTEP, Bob Morrow

SPARKS, Nev. -- Under a contract modification, Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) announced it will focus on the development of advanced bio-based life support and food production systems for NASA’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP).Sierra_Nevada_logo

SNC will continue its public-private partnership with NASA to develop its Hybrid Life Support System (HLSS) for application in microgravity space environments.

SNC said it will work on the development of plant-based modules that can recycle drinking water from waste water streams, regenerate oxygen from carbon dioxide, produce fresh food for astronauts, and support radiation protection of the crew while on deep exploration missions, such as missions to Mars. 

The development and testing will be done at SNC’s Madison, Wis. offices.

SNC’s space business division is based in Louisville.

Plant-growth systems will be critical to the ultimate success of long-duration human missions extending out farther into the solar system, SNC said.

“In addition to the plants providing fresh food for the astronauts, they will provide a means to maintain a connection with mother Earth in the sterile space environment,” said Bob Morrow, SNC’s principal scientist. 

“That connection is a huge psychological and nutritional boost to any human in an enclosed environment for a long period of time.”

The contract modification spans two years and includes testing to evaluate key technologies with short periods (20 to 30 seconds) of microgravity while aboard an aircraft performing parabolic flight maneuvers.

SNC said planned future efforts may include extended testing in microgravity aboard the space station, in addition to tests on Earth.

This effort continues to advance SNC technology and leadership in the development and application of Environmental Control and Life Support Systems that are applicable to long duration human space travel, minimizing consumables, the company said. In addition, these technologies have great application on Earth for controlled and closed agriculture systems that can be sustained in dry and harsh environments, or for rapid emergency response food production.

SNC has already provided contributions to advance plant technology on the International Space Station via NASA’s vegetable production system, VEGGIE, and the Advanced Plant Habitat (APH) facility. 

Fresh food is regularly grown on the space station with VEGGIE, and APH will begin providing important data to better understand plant function in space. 

SNC said it is also working on components for a deep space habitat and gateway structure as part of NASA’s NextSTEP-2 development under two other contracts.