BioPod, the future lunar farm that could be useful on Earth first


Have you seen Alone on Mars? In this Ridley Scott film released in 2015, Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon, finds himself stranded on the Red Planet for several years before the next manned mission arrives. A botanist by training, the astronaut then began to cultivate, with the means at his disposal, potatoes inside the only available habitat, a dome designed to guarantee the survival of six people for thirty days. Destiny, without a doubt, the astronaut would have had an easier life. life with a “BioPod” in hand. In the long term, it is in any case in space, to support the lives of astronauts embarked on long missions to the Moon or Mars, that Interstellar Lab better imagines its agriculture module in a controlled environment and autonomously on Tuesday in the evening, from their offices. in Ivry-sur-Seine, the French start-up presented its first BioPod at an American show. Mounted on feet – “which allows it to be easily installed without any foundation”, specifies Barbara Bebilvisi, president of Interstellar Lab -, the module, all in an ellipse, is 7 meters high, 10 meters long and 6 wide. Its base, at least that of this first specimen, is made of composite materials, “the same, more or less, as those used for the hulls of boats”, we specify in Interstellar Lab. The rest is made of an inflatable and transparent ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) membrane. It is through her that we have a view of what goes on inside. Cultures are developed on several floors, in 55 m² and in an automated and controlled environment. Until being able to reproduce the climate of a very different region to the one where the BioPod is installed. And in the containers, without soil. “The roots are in the open air and sprayed with a solution of water and nutrients.” Everything is hermetically sealed and works independently. The BioPod captures CO2 in the environment to put it at the service of plant growth. As for the water, “everything that is not used by the plant is recovered, treated and returned to the circuit”, explains Valentin Feist, head of communication at Interstellar Lab. There remains the electricity supply, an axis on which the start-up continues to work. “Today, the BioPod is connected to the electricity grid, but we are working on a system that makes it autonomous from this point of view as well, with portable and low-carbon energy sources.” The start-up Interstellar Lab presented this Tuesday evening its first BioPod, a module for agriculture in a controlled environment that, one day, could allow plants to be grown in space. – Fabrice Pouliquen / 20 minutes A lunar BioPod on the horizon in 2027? Is this the BioPod that Interstellar Lab hopes to one day see take off for the Moon? “It will look quite similar”, says Barbara Bebilvisi in any case, and points out that there is still a lot of work to do to adapt it to the space limitations. He mentions a contract that would tie Interstellar Lab to NASA for the next five years to build this Lunar BioPod. But without going into details. “This will be the subject of another announcement, earlier in November,” says Alexis Paillet of Cnes, the French space agency, where he is responsible for the Spaceship FR project, which aims to prepare for human and robotic space exploration . he does not know about this contract, although he knows that Barbara Bellivisi has many connections in the United States. “But like many other space companies that also work on these questions of the culture of living things in space and participate in the challenges launched by NASA on the subject.” As for whether Interstellar Lab has made progress with its BioPod, Alexis Paillet, again, tempers. “This first version doesn’t take space limitations into account,” he says. We are no longer able to send these types of modules into space. The design should also be reviewed. One of the limitations of growing up on the Moon is shielding yourself from radiation. Then it is impossible to have a module with a transparent membrane. »Earth before SpaceBref, there is still work to be done and probably for more than five years. “But it’s normal, continues Alexis Paille. The reflection is just beginning and the projects, of Interstellar as of its competitors, are still immature. It is unlikely that we will need these cultivation modules on the Moon or Mars before 2035.” Meanwhile, Barbara Bellivisi heads to Earth, where she believes her BioPods can also be of great use. The President of Interstellar then lists the limits of the current global agricultural system. Its emissions of greenhouse gases (around 23% of global emissions), the surfaces it uses (40% of the planet’s land), its significant consumption of fresh water… These modules would be the promise to avoid some of these impacts. The recycling of water and the capture of C02 – an annual average of one ton per year – are not the only advantages that Interstellar Lab highlights. “It also means increases in agricultural yield, less surface used, no pollution…, boasts Barbara Bellivisi. And it can be deployed anywhere and quickly. There remains the question of the expected product volumes: “About five tons per year on average per BioPod,” slips Barabara Bellivisi. It is not enough to replace crops in open fields. But that’s not the goal. “We will never use a Biopod to produce lettuce in France,” he explains. Ten BioPods arriving in 2023 On the other hand, Interstellar Lab has identified scenarios for which its modules could be useful. Including with the aim of producing food “where the land is too damaged or where there is a lack of space”, begins Barabara Bellivisi. Interstellar Lab is also thinking about the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries, sectors that use many natural ingredients, including plants that grow far from their laboratories. Among the twelve plants already in the start-up’s catalog is the Madagascar periwinkle, grown in tropical and subtropical regions “and which contains two molecules used in the chemotherapeutic treatment of many cancers”, says Barbara Bellivisi. Finally, Interstellar Lab does not forget scientific research, which could use BioPods to conserve plant species threatened with extinction or work on the adaptation of crops to climate change. In short, there would be a lot to do. Barbara Bellivisi says she already has 200 BioPod pre-orders. “We will build ten more in 2023, but the idea is to be able to produce 100 a year very quickly.” This is Interstellar Lab’s entire economic model: sell as many BioPods as possible to “earthly” customers to continue dreaming of space. But there again, Alexis Paillet asks to see. “We have to see how this BioPOd behaves in more difficult conditions than in the hangar where it was created, he begins. It is certainly very beautiful, but this module is not so different from what Agricool (another French start-up) was doing growing in converted shipping containers”, he points out.
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