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Solar Foods one of the Phase II winners of NASA Deep Space Food Challenge

May 19, 2023

A panel of Judges has selected Solar Foods’ Solein-producing technology as one of the winners of the Phase II of Deep Space Food Challenge. The challenge, launched in January 2021 by NASA and their Canadian counterpart organization CSA, seeks innovations to feed astronauts on long space missions.

The Deep Space Food Challenge sets strict requirements for all competitors: each concept must create foods that are safe, nutritious, and tasty, be produced with minimal resources, and result in minimal waste. The Finnish food-tech company, Solar Foods, entered the challenge with its innovative technology to grow Solein, a novel protein grown using electricity and CO2. Solar Foods was awarded in the Phase I of the Deep Space Food Challenge in 2021 and proceeded to the second round of the challenge.

The winners of Phase II were announced on 19 May in New York, ahead of the NASA Deep Space Food Challenge Innovation Showcase held at the NYCxDESIGN Festival at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Solar Foods was chosen as one of the winners from eleven North American and three international Phase II finalists.

“We are exhilarated by this great honor bestowed upon us”, stated Arttu Luukanen, Senior Vice President of Space & Defense at Solar Foods who has led the team participating in the challenge. “Not only have we learned a great deal about how to integrate our technology in the astronauts’ life support system, but coming from outside of the current space cluster the visibility of this achievement also gives our space activities a significant boost. Furthermore, this success confirms our work in developing a space food application is on the right path. Now our journey continues to Phase III where we will be again advancing our technology.”

Solar Foods’ space concept produces Solein according to the same microbial gas fermentation technique the company uses to grown the novel protein on Earth. When integrated with the on-board environmental control and life support systems of a spacecraft, the food production system will be able to utilize both the CO2 exhaled by the crew as well as waste hydrogen from the on-board oxygen generation system that is currently vented overboard.

Solar Foods has already cooperated with companies that aim to make space habitable, as well as the European Space Agency ESA. The interest for working with Solar Foods has been high and for good reason: Solein is an economical solution to solve nutritional needs on a space mission. To gain permanent footholds on Moon and Mars, humanity must crack the question of space food.

”Introducing our Solein production on-board vessels at Low-Earth Orbit makes sound economic sense. According to our calculations, this technology can save tens of millions of dollars a year as there would be less need to launch as much food and water into space anymore”, Luukanen explained.

“And once we embark on missions to the Moon and especially Mars, on-board food production is a mission-critical technology. Launching the required mass of food and water from Earth is impossible for such a long mission, not to mention the insurmountable problem of limited shelf life of even dried foods. In short, if humanity wants to reach Mars, we need to solve the challenge of food security for a space mission that takes two to three years,” he continued.

”We also firmly believe that innovations necessary towards realizing our space food production technology will directly benefit our Earth-bound operations, as these innovations on bioprocess automation, process stability, system reliability as well as food safety assurance are universally applicable”, said Luukanen.

Following the latest success of Phase II, the company continues the development of its Solein-generator concept for space travel.

The Deep Space Food Challenge set clear specifications for the dimensions and power of any potential food-producing units. Any design concept should be under 2m3 in volume, and a maximum power draw of 3,000 watts and an average draw of ca. 1,500 watts. Solar Foods’ proposed Solein production unit for space would be housed in a cabinet measuring 72x162x56cm and have an meager average draw of ~700 watts. It is designed for a crew of six, and its modular design allows for expanding capacity with increasing occupancy.

With the ultimate goal of providing the main-stay protein for our future Mars-faring astronauts firmly in the company’s sights, the company seeks to deepen its cooperation with space agencies and private sector companies active in developing the next generation of orbiting space stations as well as the ARTEMIS program, aiming at landing the first woman astronaut near the Lunar south pole by the end of the decade.

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