3D Printed Space Food
3D printed space food may sound like something out of a science fiction movie, but it is actually more real than you may imagine. With new innovations happening every day, the future of 3D printed space food is more than just a distant dream, and the newest developments may soon make printing real, edible food a reality. If the "Print your own Space Food" challenge turns out to bring the right kind of results, then astronauts will soon have a lot more to look forward to than just frozen powders and oozy liquids that they were forced to have for their meals up until now. Is the issue of food in space about to be resolved and if yes, what does that mean for the future of space travel? Are we about to witness a whole spectrum of new possibilities open up in the space industry?
The challenge and the solution of 3D printed space food
The "Print your own Space Food" challenge was organised by NASA and it was conducted as a feasibility study that was supposed to show the possibilities of additive manufacturing for food. The main idea of the challenge was to collect a wide range of different ideas on how to manufacture food in space, especially by using the process of recycling.
A team of CalTech students came up with the winning solution called AstroGro. The winners took a completely different and very unique approach to this extremely demanding challenge: instead of simply exploring the options of 3D printing actual food, they decided to make use of the 3D printers that already existed in space. However, these printers wouldn't be used to print food, but would 3D print AI-enabled, recyclable pods in which the astronauts could organically grow food all by themselves.
How does AstroGro work?
The idea of astronauts growing their own food right in their own space shuttles is extremely exciting and could mark a beginning of a new era is space travel. Up until now, food had to be transported to the space stations, which took up loads of precious energy as well as storage space on the space stations. However, a renewable source of food would mean that storing large amounts of food would no longer be necessary. Living in space could thus be sustained for a much longer period of time, which would consequently mean a whole new range of possibilities for space travel.
The AstroGro is genius and at the same time incredibly simple: a pod printed with 3D technology is integrated with artificial intelligence, which enables the astronauts to grow their own fresh food. The farming ecosphere is modular and growth of the food can be scaled, so the whole process is easy to control. Since the conditions in space are very unpredictable, the AstroGro is very adaptable; thanks to the AI, the conditions for plant growth are able to adapt to changes, which makes the entire system very reliable and resistant to a number of external disturbances.