The European Space Agency (ESA) announced on Wednesday that it has launched a new project that will help determine the feasibility of farming on the moon. Within the framework of the project “Creating conditions for farming on the Moon by producing fertilizers from enriched regolith”, various methods of extracting minerals from lunar soil for hydroponic agriculture will be studied.
There has been a lot of talk lately about the creation of lunar colonies, especially by Elon Musk, who aims to colonize the moon by 2030. But the idea of living on a “space rock” raises an important question: where will the settlers get their food? In order to ensure a long-term presence on the moon, ESA is working with the space resource processing company Solsys Mining and two European research institutes to develop sustainable methods of hydroponic farming in space.
The lunar topsoil, also known as regolith, is rich in nutrients, but this does not make it a suitable substrate for growing vegetables. Regolith lacks nitrogen compounds necessary for sustainable plant growth; it is also hydrophobic and compacts in the presence of water, which makes it difficult to form a healthy root system of seedlings. (This is probably why experiments on regolith cultivation at the University of Florida last year did not impress the scientific world.)
ESA experts said that hydroponics eliminates the need for soil. Instead of hoping that plants will take root in regolith or another substrate, hydroponics allows these roots to grow directly in nutrient-rich water. However, in order for the water used for lunar hydroponics to be nutritious, Solsys and ESA will have to create a system that extracts nutrients from the regolith.
At the moment, Solsys is experimenting with various mechanical, chemical and biological processes by which these nutrients can be grown. The Geotechnical Institute of Norway and the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Space are creating a system that concentrates useful nutrients and gets rid of unwanted materials.
“This work is necessary for future long—term lunar exploration,” said Malgorzata Holinska, ESA Materials and Technology Engineer. “Achieving a sustainable human presence on the moon will involve harnessing local resources and gaining access to nutrients present in the lunar regolith that could potentially help grow plants.”
The ESA project started in December 2022 and will be completed at the end of this year. The agency did not say what kinds of products it would like to grow on the moon. Perhaps, in the course of experiments, some species will prove to be well suited for lunar farming; now Solsys is successfully growing tomatoes, beans and peppers on hydroponics here on Earth.
A source: https://overclockers.ru