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Project EDEN ISS: Arrival on the eternal iceshelf

Greenhouse reaches the Antarctic

"Now that we have unloaded at the ice shelf edge, we are under construction," says EDEN-ISS project manager Daniel Schubert. "We could hardly wait, landing on the Antarctic continent as a four-person construction team, right before Christmas." Over the next few weeks, the team from the German Aerospace Center (DLR) will erect the ‘extreme climates greenhouse’ just 400 meters from the German Neumayer Station III in the Antarctic. This is operated by the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI), which implements the EDEN-ISS project together with DLR. The Antarctic is the ideal testing ground for soil-less vegetable growing with artificial light in a sealed system, where all the water is recycled and no pesticides or insecticides are needed. The test will demonstrate the viability of the cultivation of crops in deserts and areas with low temperatures on Earth as well as future manned missions to the Moon and Mars.

Offloading of the greenhouse in the Antarctic - Photo: dlr

Ambitious schedule
The researchers of the DLR Institute for Space Systems accompanying Daniel Schubert do not have much time now to make the greenhouse functional. "Once the two container parts have been towed from the shelf edge to the station and assembled on the pre-installed scaffolding, we must quickly start with the interior design," explains Schubert. "Shelves need to be set up, nutrient solution pumps installed, and special LEDs calibrated for optimal illumination. And sowing will begin." As early as mid-February, Daniel Schubert and his two team-mates, Conrad Zeidler and Matthew Bamsey, will have to return to Germany via Cape Town when one of the last aircraft leaves Neumayer Station III. Paul Zabel will remain to take care of plant breeding in the polar winter during the months of hibernation. "If we sow punctually at the beginning of February, I hope to be able to harvest the first salads and radishes at the end of March," says Zabel.

From May 21st to July 22nd, the sun will no longer reach the horizon in Neumayer Station III, which is around 70 degrees south latitude, and temperatures can drop below minus 40 degrees Celsius. "It will certainly be an enrichment of the diet, if Paul can supplement our food with fresh vegetables directly from the greenhouse," says Bernhard Gropp from AWI, who will take over the station management for the upcoming wintering season from February 2018. During the hibernation in 2018, a team of 10 scientists, engineers, a cook and a doctor will live on Neumayer Station III.

"We are interested in whether a positive psychological effect can be achieved with a fresh diet," says Gropp. In the summer season from November to February, a supply of fresh fruit, vegetables and salad by air from South Africa takes place every three to four weeks. The last fresh food delivery arrives at the end of February. After that there will be no fresh salad, fresh tomatoes and cucumbers until next November. The EDEN-ISS greenhouse in the Antarctic is initially planned to remain in operation until December 2018.

Satellite image of the arrival of the EDEN ISS - Photo: dlr

From Bremen via Cape Town to the Antarctic
After trials at the DLR Institute for Space Systems in Bremen, the special greenhouse container had left the port of Hamburg for Cape Town on a cargo ship on 8 October 2017. There it was loaded onto a South African research vessel in mid-November, which reached the Antarctic Ekström ice shelf on 3 January 2018. "From the ice shelf edge we towed the container greenhouse with snow groomers another 20 kilometers to Neumayer Station III," says Daniel Schubert. He and his EDEN-ISS teammates travelled from Cape Town to arrive at the Russian Novo station on December 18, from which they used an airplane of the AWI, to reach the German Neumayer Station III on the 21st

Made in Antarctica: plant cultivation without soil and with artificial light
Aeroponics is the magic word for the soon to be started nursery under Antarctic conditions. With this technique, plants are cultivated in a sterile setting without soil, their roots being sprayed -computer-controlled- with a water/nutrient mixture and the leaves being optimally illuminated by special LEDs. "We also adapt the air in the greenhouse to the needs of the plants in the best way possible, thus increasing the CO2 content and using special filters to remove fungal traces and germs from the air. There is also air sterilization by means of UV radiation, which means that purely organic cultivation without insecticides or pesticides is possible," explains project leader Schubert. "Like a space station, the greenhouse has a fully enclosed air circuit, including an air lock that will allow Paul Zabel to enter the greenhouse day after day. The closed circuit will allow all the water that the plants release into the air to be collected, so it can be fed to them again.

Source: DLR

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