Eden Grow Systems has been selected by the United States Air Force (USAF) for a Phase I Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) award for its development of aeroponic technology, which will provide reliable sustenance for United States Space Force (USSF) operatives working in remote, and sometimes inhospitable locations.
Dubbed "Worldwide Aeroponic Towers for Nutrition with Enhanced Yields," (or, "WATNEY"), this new technology combines cutting-edge, NASA-developed artificial intelligence (AI)-controlled aeroponics robotics with patented, closed-system designs, both of which work together to produce a diverse variety of nutrient-dense foods in remote locales.
The name WATNEY comes from the 2015 science-fiction / drama film, The Martian. "Mark Watney" was the astronaut portrayed by Matt Damon. The film focuses primarily on Watney's struggle to grow his own food on the Red Planet, after finding himself stranded alone on its unforgiving surface.
Bart Womack, CEO of Eden, describes the benefits of USSF operatives growing their own food on-base: "We aim to be the supply chain for fresh food that never fails. In unstable times, solutions that guarantee that our armed forces have the capacity to feed themselves during times of crisis are needed. Our scientists have developed varieties of new growing techniques on the International Space Station (ISS), making them real-life "Mark Watneys" - so we're uniquely prepared for the challenges ahead."
The USSF's 45th Space Wing currently operates an advanced hydroponics facility to support launch operations at its Ascension Island Auxiliary Airfield, remotely situated in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. To sustain the Ascension Island facility, and future remote USSF bases, Eden Grow Systems and Washington, DC's Rhea Space Activity (RSA) are shaping WATNEY to leverage aeroponics, an organic growth process that dangles crop roots in air and mists them with a liquid nutrient solution.
Currently, feeding USSF Guardians on islands such as Ascension depends on air and sea delivery of supplies. These deliveries happen infrequently, and the duration between deliveries often results in depletion of supplies or spoiled produce.
WATNEY will enhance 'downrange' USSF Guardian quality-of-life by producing a diverse range of fruits and vegetables that otherwise could not be grown in remote locations. WATNEY's aeroponic approach allows crops to conserve and reallocate the energy that under normal growing conditions would be used to find nutrients in their growth medium, instead channeling that same energy to grow larger and more efficiently.
WATNEY can provide efficient, autonomous, and nutritious sustenance to Guardians stationed anywhere in the world, from remote locations to office buildings and eventually to the ISS. As its namesake Mark Watney demonstrated via Hollywood, Eden Grow Systems and RSA's WATNEY technology proves that space-tested technology can be adapted for much more efficient crop cultivation.
Gary Stutte, Head Researcher (and a real-life Mark Watney) at Eden Grow Systems, says "WATNEY uses the same optimization methods we used to perform multiple growth experiments on the ISS, and brings measurable growth results to people anywhere in the world."
Cameo Lance, Director of Physics Programs at RSA, reflects on the future trajectory of the WATNEY program: "Working to feed Guardians for remote force sustainment in extreme Earth-bound environments, while leveraging NASA-developed technology, is a bit ironic for the United States Space Force, but only for the time being. We're already looking forward to feeding Guardians in the extreme environment of space."
Eden Grow Systems partnered directly with RSA to develop WATNEY. Both are portfolio companies of SpaceFund.
Meagan Crawford, Managing Partner of Space Fund, comments, "Seeing these two portfolio companies work together to leverage each other's strengths is something we often hope for, but rarely experience in full. In this case, there is a strong sense and spirit of partnership that enables both companies to reach further than either could individually."
The next step for Eden and RSA in developing WATNEY is to carry out a local micro-farming demonstration project utilizing the Eden Grow WATNEY Tower in a controlled, indoor environment to validate the technology for broader deployment. This demonstration will be tailored to specific use cases at remote locations, such as Ascension Island.
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