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Space Agriculture: Dwarf Wheat Grows At The ISS With Advanced Plant Habitat

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NASA is gaining progress in growing and studying crops in space. This is possible through the Advanced Plant Habitat, the latest innovation onboard the International Space Station.

Space agency NASA recently released a 10-second time lapse video of crops growing inside a small chamber. The experiment chamber, about the size of a mini-fridge, is designed to test the growth conditions of plants in space.

What Is The Advanced Plant Habitat?

The APH was first installed in the ISS in 2017. It is the largest growth chamber aboard the orbiting space station that serves as a root and shoot area for various crops.

It is a fully automated plant growth facility used for conducting plant bioscience research on the ISS. It is equipped with an automated, closed-loop system known as the Plant Habitat Avionics Real-Time Manager (PHARMER).

The sensor ability of the PHARMER allows the collection of real-time information on the habitat's condition, including temperature, humidity, oxygen content, and moisture levels of the plants. Data collected by the chamber's 180 sensors are sent back to a NASA team at the Kennedy Space Center.

The APH system requires minimal crew involvement to monitor, add water, and for other maintenance activities.

The first growth had Arabidopsis, small flowering plants, and dwarf wheat.

What Happens Inside The Habitat?

In February 2017, NASA astronaut Joe Acaba prepared the APH grower by inserting Arabidopsis and dwarf wheat seeds. The Arabidopsis seeds will grow for the first 2.5 weeks, and then the dwarf wheat will grow in the last 2.5 weeks.

Inside the habitat, scientists grow plants under a controlled and monitored environment. Humidity, temperature, oxygen, and even carbon dioxide levels can be adjusted depending on types of plants.

"It's more of a fine-tuned instrument. If a team wants a certain amount of light for an investigation, we can provide that," says Bryan Onate, Plant Habitat project manager in the ISS Ground Processing and Research Directorate.

The APH allow scientists to study agricultural cycles that are based in space. This project studies the possibility of growing an entire line of plants from one seed brought from Earth.

"If we can get seeds that are viable in space and grow multiple generations from that one seed, that's a new capability. And we now have the space to do that kind of testing with APH. We've tried to create a little Mother Earth," Onate added.

Advancements And Upgrades

The APH now features an upgraded LED system that is more developed than the red, green, and blue lights installed in the Veggie Production System, NASA's earlier deployable plant growth unit that produces salad veggies for the ISS crew.

One advancement of the APH is its capability of producing light from zero to 1,000 micromoles, a unit to measure the intensity of a light source.

By expanding the light spectrum through the APH, researchers can grow and study more types of plants in space. With this technology, the light needed by each plant type can be tailored and adjusted to any level within the range of the APH.

Space biology experiments such as the Veggie and APH are part of the NASA's Advanced Plant Experiments.

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