The TIME SCALE project aims for development of new concepts and technology for future life science research in space, based on the European Modular Cultivation System (EMCS). Such new knowledge and technology on plant production systems can pave the road both for a manned mission to Mars, but also lead to more efficient and sustainable production back on Earth.
TIME SCALE develops space technology for Earth applications. Photo: Colourbox.
Recirculating, soilless plant cultivation systems
As the world population grows we face the need for increased food production on Earth, while both consumers, politicians and industry players call for sustainability and reduced environmental impact. One strategy for meeting this need goes through recirculating food production systems, and ultimately through closed loop systems. For plant production, hydroponics has been highlighted as a concept for sustainable food production. In such a system, plants are cultivated without soil, with their roots in contact with a nutrient solution. Nutrients that are not taken up by the plants can be recycled, reducing water and nutrient loss and increasing the resource utilization of the production system. Tomato, cucumber and herbs are examples of cultures for food production in such systems.
Development of life support systems for future space exploration will need to take recycling and resource utilization towards new frontiers. As TIME SCALE aims for a recirculating water and nutrient management system for plant cultivation, this know-how and technology have multiple applications for land-based industry, such as in future greenhouse-based crop production with significant reduction in fertilizer and water use.
New sensor technology
A recirculating nutrient solution will have to be replenished as plants take up nutrients. In an optimized plant production system, the concentration of each nutrient should be regulated to meet the requirement of the plants. To accomplish this, we need sensor technology to monitor nutrient levels in these soilless cultivation systems.
TIME SCALE includes research and development on improved multi-ion sensors for real time measuring and monitoring concentrations of individual ions in solutions. Such new technology is warmly welcomed by the land-based greenhouse industry - both on its own and also combined with specific space requirements of
e.g. minimal maintenance needs.
Plant health monitoring
The possibility of understanding plant health can add invaluable scientific data to future life science research in space. TIME SCALE aims towards new concepts and technology for non-invasive plant health monitoring, based on online advanced imaging system, and online monitoring of volatile organic compounds. Such tools and techniques have large potential for land-based industry. Possibilities include screening large plant populations in basic research and breeding programs, and efficient resource management in precision agriculture.