Augmenting life support functions and resource recovery in space.
These systems are designed for microgravity environments and are efficient in terms of mass, power use and physical footprint with an eye toward future long duration crewed missions.
Sierra Space has an extensive history in plant growth systems stemming from 20 years of research and development in environmental control and life support systems for NASA. These studies date back to the Space Shuttle missions with the Biomass Production System testing wheat and Brassica onboard the International Space Station.
The Vegetable Production Unit (VEGGIE), a modularly designed plant growth unit, was developed and built by Sierra Space and provided to NASA Kennedy Space Center. The first Veggie unit was installed on the International Space Station in 2014 and a second unit added in 2017.
Veggie provides an environment that promotes biological growth of intended species by providing a programmable light source, ventilation with the cabin environment, and a passive means to provide water to plant pillows. VEGGIE was the first platform to be certified to provide ISS-grown produce for crew consumption, making it possible for U.S. astronauts to eat fresh produce for the first time on-orbit in 2015. Since then, crew members have sampled multiple salad-type crops produced in the Veggie units.
APH has been operational on the ISS since 2017. The Advanced Plant Habitat (APH) is the largest plant growth chamber yet flown in space. Though designed primarily for basic plant research in microgravity, APH also been used to produce edible crops tasted by the crew, including Radish and Hatch Chili Peppers (NASA astronauts even made space tacos after harvesting red and green chili peppers as part of the Plant Habitat-04 study).
APH uses nearly 200 sensors for control and data acquisition. Capabilities include control of environmental parameters like temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide, oxygen, light quality and quantity, and photoperiod. It also provides nutrients to the plants and can recycle plant-transpired water. Filter systems keep the growing volume free of volatile contaminants. Tracking of water and carbon dioxide uptake allows study of plant physiological processes, while multiple cameras allow tracking of plant growth and development.
Testing aeroponic and hydroponic techniques and nutrient delivery systems, eXposed Root On-Orbit Test System (XROOTS), produced the first plants grown aeroponically on-orbit in microgravity. The system, operating in conjunction with VEGGIE, has been on-orbit since early 2022 and will enable the development of advanced subsystems that significantly reduce mass, power, and volume for microgravity plant production. By studying hydroponic and aeroponic techniques in a microgravity environment, Sierra Space aims to provide a scalable alternative to enable plant growth systems of adequate size to contribute to future deep space exploration missions.
Sierra Space is currently developing the next generation of hybrid life support systems that will support long-duration missions. These systems will provide crew with fresh food to augment current packaged food systems, and deliver an alternate means to augment life support functions such as water purification, carbon dioxide removal, and oxygen production.
The Sierra Space Mass Measurement Device (MMD) has been on-orbit and in operation since 2017. The MMD provides an accurate means to measure the mass of research samples in microgravity. The MMD is gravity independent and provides a simple user interface. MMD uses a modular design that accommodates additional mass ranges as desired.
Sierra Space designed and built the Trash Compaction and Processing System (TCPS) to complement our environmental control product line. TCPS is designed to facilitate waste management in the next generation of space vehicles and habitats. We optimized TCPS to provide efficient waste sanitation, stabilization, and resource recovery, while reducing the mass, power, and physical footprint.
Waste is loaded into the waste compaction chamber where it is heated and compressed. Temperature and pressure sanitize waste, consolidate waste into a stable tile, and drive any moisture and gas out of the waste compaction chamber so it can be processed and recycled to the cabin environment.