During long space travel in the future, to the Gateway – the space station planned in orbit around the Moon, to a base on the Moon or to Mars, astronauts will have to grow a lot of their own food.
Norwegian researchers have been experimenting with growing plants in space for more than 10 years.
But astronauts can’t survive solely on lettuce and tomatoes and will need about 400 grams of protein per day, says Krina Silvia Elia, director of the Norwegian Fish in Space Project at Clara Venture Labs (formerly Prototech).
This pilot project will investigate whether Norwegian fish in fish farms specifically designed for use in space can give astronauts the proteins they need.
promising salmon for the room
The pilot project will test salmon weighing 50 to 100 grams as a potential source of protein in the room, whether it’s literature studies or early experiments with egg and smollus cultivation.
“Salmon is one of the most promising fish, because it grows quickly and has a very good food-to-weight ratio when grown in facilities with recycled water,” says Elia.
At least, salmon can survive in fresh, recycled water, which is important for room use. Because here the fish have to live in closed special facilities where as much resources as possible are reused and as few as possible added.
Attempts with fish in space have been made in the past in a weightless environment during parabolic flights and on the International Space Station, but there have been small aquarium fish that have never been tested with the intention of using them as food.
It needs its own little ecosystem
“Indoor fish farms function as separate, independent ecosystems and are essential to be able to grow food in the room,” says Ilea.
While working in such closed facilities, Ilya came up with the idea of testing fish as a food source for space travel.
– As aquaculture has problems such as fish escape, salmon lice and other diseases, fish farms closed to the ground are being developed to see if they can solve the challenges. Such enclosed facilities need energy, food, water, oxygen and purification, so they are like a separate spaceship, but in the water, says Ilea.
I was previously involved in developing a power source for a large project testing closed ecosystems for use in space, called Melissa (Small Ecological Life Support System Alternative), by ESA.
It can be tested on the moon
Ilea submitted two proposals for an open call that the European Space Agency had for ideas for use on the Moon.
One was how oxygen and water could be produced from minerals on the moon using a new type of reactor being developed by Clara Venture Labs, and the other was Norwegian fish in space, says Ilea. Both ideas received good feedback from the space organization.
The European Space Agency (ESA) is building a lander for use on the Moon, called the Large European Logistic Lander, and it may have biological experiments with it when it is launched sometime in the 2030s.
The enclosed fish-breeding testing facility aboard a large European logistics transport ship would have been an ideal and a great opportunity to investigate how fish grow, behave and thrive in an enclosed facility during launch, space travel, landing and stay on the moon, says Elia.
But to achieve this goal, the idea and technology behind such a project must have a high degree of maturity.
– This technological development can only be achieved through cooperation between different partners with relevant expertise and interests, and with the financial support of national space organizations and the European Space Agency, says Ilea.
Norway must take a leadership role
Previous research from the USA, Germany and Japan shows that fish can fertilize, lay eggs, hatch, survive and grow in space.
Thus, it is only a matter of time before fish can be tested as a food source in space. Since Norway is a world leader in aquaculture, space fish farming is something that Norway should focus on in the future and not be left to others, says Ilea.
Here, there is great potential both for innovation and research, and as an opening to new markets.
– If it can be linked to Norway’s oil and gas expertise, it could open up a lot of exciting technology exchange between the energy sector, the aquaculture industry and the aerospace industry, says Ilea.
So you hope others will also see these potential business opportunities, a project like Norwegian Fish In Space is an investment for the future.
Not least that closed fish farms that function as a completely separate ecosystem would be very beneficial on Earth.
It will solve the challenges in growing the food we have here on Earth, in emissions and reuse of resources. Ilea says if we increase the efficiency of the room, it will also be beneficial on the floor.
Three of Norway’s biggest industrial advantages
The accompanying project, “Norwegian Fish In Space”, is 50 percent supported by the Norwegian Space Center and will initially run for one year.
The Norwegian Fish in Space Project is an exciting project that has the opportunity to become a new Norway product in space in the future, and can provide a lot of useful innovations and technologies between the aquaculture industry, the marine industry and the aerospace industry, according to Austin Hellerin, Research and Development Coordinator at the Norwegian Space Center.
Hellerin adds that it will be very exciting to see the results coming out of the Norwegian Fish in Space project this year, and whether this is something that can be moved forward by the European Space Agency (ESA) to support the future presence of astronauts on the Moon and Mars.
The European Space Agency has great opportunities for the European and Norwegian industry for future space travel to the Moon and Mars.
Øystein Helleren – Research and Development Coordinator – Norwegian Space Center – 416 17876
Crina Silvia Ilea – Project Manager – Clara Venture Labs – 942 57802