A new hydroponics method could allow astronauts to farm on the moon

Lunar farming is "essential for future long-term lunar exploration".
Chris Young
An artist's impression of the lunar farming method.
An artist's impression of the lunar farming method.

Solsys Mining 

Astronauts may soon be cultivating lunar farmland.

That's because the European Space Agency (ESA) has joined forces with Norwegian lunar agriculture firm Solsys Mining to develop a method for converting lunar soil into fertilizer.

The new method could form a crucial part of NASA's plans to establish a permanent presence on the moon with its upcoming Artemis program missions.

Cultivating lunar soil

The new project draws from previous research on growing plants in lunar soil. This is an incredibly challenging undertaking because lunar soil lacks nitrogen compounds that are partially responsible for plant growth on Earth.

ESA, Solsys Mining, Norway's Geotechnical Institute, and the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Space have all teamed up in a bid to develop a new method for growing plants in lunar soil using hydroponics.

Hydroponics is a method whereby plants are grown in nutrient-rich water instead of soil. It has been utilized for vertical farming facilities, and now, it could help to cultivate land on the moon.

The new study, led by ESA, is studying the best methods for extracting the highest amounts of nutrients from lunar soil for this method. It has a budget of €100,000 ($106,000 approx.) and is expected to last until the end of 2023.

Lunar farming is "essential for future long-term lunar exploration"

If all goes to plan, the new method will allow astronauts to extract nutrients from lunar regolith to make fertilizer for hydroponic farming. This would require building a processing plant on the moon's surface. The processing plant would extract the nutrients before pumping them into a greenhouse for hydroponic farming.

"This work is essential for future long-term lunar exploration," Malgorzata Holynska, ESA materials and processes engineer, explained in an ESA press statement. "Achieving a sustainable presence on the Moon will involve using local resources and gaining access to nutrients present in lunar regolith with the potential to help cultivate plants. The current study represents a proof of principle using available lunar regolith simulants, opening the way to more detailed research in future."

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