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Canadian Space Agency judges U of G team in out-of-this-world food challenge


A panel from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is learning how a University of Guelph team plans to grow fresh food in space.

It is part of the CSA’s Deep Space Food Challenge, an international competition, to innovate food growing methods in space, especially on places like Mars.

In 2021, the University of Guelph team, named Team Canada GOOSE (Growth Options for Outer Space Environments), with help from the Controlled Environment Systems Research Facility, became one of the top ten Canadian finalists.

The goal of the Deep Space Food Challenge is to develop the best food production technology for long-duration space missions.

Team Canada Goose created a plant-growth chamber with environment control technology that can produce high yields of fruits, vegetables and mushrooms.

“The whole environment is being controlled. So the circulation, temperature, CO2 levels, also the light levels with the LEDs,” said Serge Levesque, a graduate student on the team.

Team Canada Goose showed the CSA panel their chamber and all the fruit and vegetables they’ve been able to grow so far -- all without soil.

“It was tricky to get it working, all the different kind of plants. We spent about eight months testing different iterations of this to get here,” said graduate student Rosemary Brockett, after her team was assessed by the panel on Thursday morning.

The team admitted it took a lot of trial and error.

“We started with the glass beads and sort of rope wicks. That didn’t work. So just figuring out the process. I 3-D printed hundreds of things over the last months and just seeing what works,” Brockett said.

Fabric wicks are what did the trick, with 3-D printed holders to support the plant and fabric. Brockett said if they make it to phase three, they will make some changes to refine their methods.

“Ideally we would make these out of silicon. 3-D printing can have some issues with contamination because you have all the grooves when you 3-D print something,” Brockett said.

The inner workings of their methods are kept tight lipped as the competition continues but Team Canada Goose said their next goal is to have it used closer to home.

“Deploying this technology in harsh environments like Canada’s north and attempting to mitigate at least part of the food insecurity aspects of living in the far north,” said the team’s leader and direction of Controlled Environment Systems Research Facility, Mike Dixon.

Dixon said he’s proud of what his team has submitted and said the CSA seemed to be impressed.

“It looked like we did very well. I saw a lot of vigorous nodding of heads so they understood the principles and the proof of concept that each of the elements of this project created,” Dixon said.

In the spring the team will find out if they’re moving onto the next round. The grand prize winner of $380,000 will be awarded in 2024. Top Stories

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