In the near future, settlers on the Moon will have to become farmers. A new ESA technique could make it possible.
A new ESA Discovery project led by Norway’s Solsys Mining is looking into the treatment of lunar soil to create fertilizer for growing plants.
The good news is that analysis of lunar samples returned to Earth in the past by Moonwalkers and robots shows sufficient essential minerals are available for plant growth, apart from nitrogen compounds.
The bad news is that lunar soil (or ‘regolith’) compacts in the presence of water, creating problems for plant germination and root growth.
Hydroponic farming, therefore, offers a practical alternative; this type of agriculture involves feeding plant roots directly with nutrient-rich water, without the need for soil. The potential is still there however to put lunar regolith to work, on the basis of ‘in-situ resource utilization’ – or living off the land.
The left of the above artist’s impression shows a mechanical sorting area for the regolith, passing through to the central module for more advanced processing, such as chemical leaching. Finally extracted nutrients would be dissolved in water to be pumped to the hydroponic garden, right.
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