Currently, the astronauts aboard the ISS have the vast majority of what they need delivered to them directly from Earth. When we place new settlements on the Moon, Mars and beyond, however, we’ll need a new solution when it comes to providing our brave settlers with essential nutrition, and that will involve growing and producing food in space. While it won’t be as simple as setting up a greenhouse as we can here on Earth, studies have now shown that it will be possible to replicate specific growing conditions in order to produce crop modules for space exploration. New research has now concluded that red and blue LEDs are essential to making this process efficient and feasible.
“To design a more efficient system, [university researchers] Poulet and Mitchell turned to high-intensity LEDs, which require about 1 watt each and are much smaller and longer lasting than traditional lights. Because they emit no radiant heat, LEDs are also cool enough to be positioned close to the plant canopy and at strategic positions to maximize the amount of light that reaches the leaves. ‘Instead of the minimum 4-foot separation we had between conventional lamps and lettuce, we could get LEDs as close as 4 centimeters away from the leaves,’ Mitchell said. The researchers also optimized the ratio of red to blue lights, providing leaf lettuce with the best combination of lightwaves for photosynthesis and growth. Their lighting system slashed the amount of energy needed for plant growth by ‘an order of magnitude’ compared with traditional lighting, Poulet said.”
While the researchers will continue to experiment with lighting and growth conditions in order to optimize efficiency and growth, these developments could represent a serious stride towards more sustainable options for future space exploration endeavors.