Project

Fermentation in Space

Copyright

Maggie Coblentz

Jimmy Day

This research highlights opportunities to bring the rich culture of Earth-based fermentation practices to space to design beneficial applications for astronauts and novel ways of managing waste. To support future crews on long duration deep space missions, they will require advanced space food systems to provide nourishment and improve the quality of limited fresh ingredients. In space, fermentation could be leveraged to repurpose food waste for a closed-loop system, preserve limited fresh ingredients, diversify food selection, grow nutrients, and improve astronaut gut health.

Fermentation is one of the oldest methods of food preservation and preparation. Fermentation gives food a variety of sensory attributes, such as flavors and textures, and nutritional values. In food production, fermentation is the process of transforming organic substrates such as proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, or other types of organic material through the action of enzymes produced by different microorganisms. Fermentation is largely impacted by the environment with temperature, humidity, and air quality being main factors. It is fascinating t… View full description

This research highlights opportunities to bring the rich culture of Earth-based fermentation practices to space to design beneficial applications for astronauts and novel ways of managing waste. To support future crews on long duration deep space missions, they will require advanced space food systems to provide nourishment and improve the quality of limited fresh ingredients. In space, fermentation could be leveraged to repurpose food waste for a closed-loop system, preserve limited fresh ingredients, diversify food selection, grow nutrients, and improve astronaut gut health.

Fermentation is one of the oldest methods of food preservation and preparation. Fermentation gives food a variety of sensory attributes, such as flavors and textures, and nutritional values. In food production, fermentation is the process of transforming organic substrates such as proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, or other types of organic material through the action of enzymes produced by different microorganisms. Fermentation is largely impacted by the environment with temperature, humidity, and air quality being main factors. It is fascinating to imagine how the environment of space could uniquely alter this process.

As space agencies prepare for a new era of space exploration, and future long duration missions to the Moon or Mars, they will need to address the complex requirement of providing crews with safe, nutritious food for survival. Crews will not be able to bring everything with them and will need to learn how to produce their own food from limited resources. To achieve sustainable food systems in closed loop life support applications such as space vehicles and habitats, we propose fermentation-based food production technology and systems. 

Research Topics
#food #space #zero gravity

Copyright

Maggie Coblentz

Copyright

Maggie Coblentz

I. Miso ISS Mission 2020:

New flavors may evolve as earth foods migrate to outer space. Our ongoing research, in collaboration with Joshua Evans at the University of Oxford, aims to map the emergence of this new space “terroir.”To begin to define the “terroir” of space, we looked through the lens of fermentation to observe the natural occurrences of a sample in space environments. In this initial experiment, a sample of miso was sent to the ISS on the SpaceX CRS-20 launch in spring 2020 for a 30 day internal mission, and compared to two control samples on the ground. Miso is a traditional Japanese seasoning, rich in nutrients and flavor, produced by fermenting soybeans with salt and kōji (the fungus Aspergillus oryzae). The samples were contained in individual chambers equipped with sensors to collect environmental data including radiation, temperature, humidity, pressure, gas, air quality (VOC and CO2), and observable visual changes to the surface. Through sequencing and analysis, we aim to learn what ecological changes may have occurred within the population of fungi, bacteria, and yeast, in addition to changes within the flavor chemistry. Results from this sequencing will help inform how to monitor and maintain the environmental conditions of raw food materials for successful early-stage fermentation development. Results will be published later this year.

This experiment was supported by the NASA-funded Translational Research Institute of Space Health (TRISH). 

Phase II. Space Fermentation Chamber (ongoing)

The second phase of this research is focused on the optimization of fermentation in enclosed environments (i.e. space stations and habitats) to help crews make safe palatable food with minimal infrastructure. It is difficult and often impossible to grow fresh produce in space environments and there is limited access supply chains and food variability. A prototype for a Space Fermentation Chamber is in development to manage and capture data on fermented food products, working towards a closed-loop food system with near term benefits targeting food waste management and the preservation of limited fresh ingredients. The chamber will be equipped with temperature controls, an off-gassing system, sensors to capture environmental data, and a modular food storage system. Not only can the Space Fermentation Chamber grow food, but it could support the ecosystem of future space stations, using recycled water and feeding CO2 back into plant growth systems. This system will involve crew support, and we are taking a phased approach to develop a rigorous flight testing platform for developing and improving the technology, system, and applications for the biological samples (i.e. raw materials and fermented food products). Hardware currently under development for a  Space Fermentation Chamber will be tested on an upcoming parabolic test and working towards future internal missions to the ISS. 

This research has direct Earth benefits as well since space is one of the best tests of sustainability, relying on closed loop systems. If the Space Fermentation Chamber proves successful in closed space habitats, it could also provide terrestrial solutions where resources are scarce.