Chinese 'Seed Satellite'

The Commission of Science Technology and Industry for National Defense has announced that China will launch the first satellite designed specifically for seed-breeding in space. The project includes satellite research and development, mechanism research and simulation tests, as well as the launch and recovery of the satellite itself.

The satellite will be sent at least 200-400 kilometers away from earth; this will expose them to conditions that will encourage the growth of plant variants:

  • cosmic radiation
  • micro-gravity
  • vacuum
  • alternating intensity magnetic fields

Chinese scientists hope to carry out satellite-based breeding programs to cultivate new plants with interesting new properties. The recoverable satellite will return to earth; a "micro-gravity experiment system" will be left in orbit.

In 2003, DuPont performed research on soybeans using the space shuttle Atlantis; the 97 day research initiative was the first to complete a crop growth cycle in space - from planting the original seeds to growing new seeds.

The space seeds were compared with their stay-at-home cousins; space-grown seeds were higher in sugar content, but lower in oil and amino acid content.

"This clearly demonstrates soybeans can be grown as a crop in space to provide both food and serve as an atmospheric scrubber for long-term space travel," said Dr. Tom Corbin, DuPont lead researcher on the initiative. "This project was a great success. When we started, we were unsure if the seeds would even remain planted in space without any gravity, let alone grow... It was ... the first major crop grown on the International Space Station.


(From Space soybeans similar to Earth crops)

In his 1989 novel Tides of Light, science fiction author Gregory Benford referred to lifezones, special growth pods that could be attached to a space ship:

the bulbous lifezones - huge bubbles extruded from the sleek lines of the Argo, like immense, bruised bodies of parasites. Inside, their opalescent walls ran with dewdrops, shimmering moist jewels hanging a bare finger's width away from hard vacuum.
(Read more about lifezones)

If you are interested in this topic, you might also be interested in the Robotic Space Tomato Harvester or other Agricultural robots (you don't expect astronauts to tend the crops, right?). Read more about the China Seed Satellite and First soybeans grown in space.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 6/1/2005)

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