AgTech has become an increasingly critical area of innovation in space and Voyager and our operating companies are focused on leveraging the unique conditions of space to address the needs for long term space exploration and the changing climate here on Earth. One key effort that we are focusing on is space sustainability. In working with customers all over the world who want to study agriculture in space, we are facilitating an environment where new space users can more easily navigate the challenges of conducting this type of research on orbit.
Our operating company, Nanoracks, is enabling an experiment sponsored by the Joint International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) / Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Centre of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture, which seeks to tackle food security in times of climate change through innovative research on the International Space Station (ISS). The experiment launched this Monday from Wallops Island, Virginia.
Titled, “Feasibility Study on Seed Irradiation in Space for Induced Genetic Diversity and Plant Mutation Breeding,” the study seeks to determine the effects of microgravity and cosmic radiation on the biology and genomes of Arabidopsis and Sorghum.
Arabidopsis—commonly called thale-cress or mouse-ear cress—lends itself to genomic research because of its genome’s extremely small size, over 125 times smaller than that of wheat, making any changes extremely noticeable.
Sorghum is a staple crop in many regions around the world, but especially in the Sahel region of Africa, where the plant is one of the few grains that can survive in the semi-arid, nitrogen-deficient soil. Yet, desertification has put the livelihoods of millions at risk as the land becomes inhospitable to staple crops.
In partnership with Nanoracks, the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre is tackling this issue by providing information on the extent of genetic mutation induced in Sorghum and Arabidopsis by cosmic radiation. After completing their experiment on the ISS, the seeds will return to Earth and scientists will study their growth and genome to determine the potential for space-flown seeds to create new climate-resilient variants that could offer relief to subsistence farmers across the world.
While there is much to learn from plant seed experiments in space, exposing plant seeds to radiation is not a new concept. The first seeds in space were launched in 1946 on an American launched V-2 rocket – at the very beginning of our space program, to ensure cosmic radiation did not degrade living tissue. Two decades later, 500 tree seeds would be flown around the moon on Apollo 14 with no adverse effects.
The FAO/IAEA Centre experiment seeks to characterize the effects of the space environment on seeds both within the ISS, as well as mounted on the exterior of the Station, a capability enabled by Nanoracks’ External Platform (NREP). Nanoracks has enabled fundamental research in fields ranging from life science to computer engineering thanks to its extensive experience with ISS and rideshare operations.
Committed to sustainability, Voyager and Nanoracks are planning several key facilities, both on Earth and in space, to continue demonstrating the boundless potential of space research to solve problems here on Earth.
StarLab Oasis, a Nanoracks spinoff and Voyager operating company, also seeks to address the complex issue of food insecurity, especially relevant against the backdrop of a resource-limited environment in the Middle Eastern desert. StarLab Oasis seeks to leverage space’s unique environment to develop crops capable of growing in hostile environments, both on this planet, and off it.
Starlab, Voyager and Nanoracks planned commercial space station, will also offer a permanent platform for agricultural research in low-Earth orbit through the George Washington Carver (GWC) Science Park, the first science park in space. The GWC Science Park is set to have dedicated facilities for biology, plant habitation, physical science, and materials science research. Through cooperation with leading research institutions and universities globally, Voyager and Nanoracks hope to enable a future where space research can provide solutions to the fundamental challenges—like food insecurity and climate change adaptation—facing humankind.
Learn more about Voyager’s sustainability efforts here.