AstroPlant update, week 1

Our involvement in the AstroPlant project got off to an eventful start, even if it wasn’t necessarily the start we would have wanted. Impressively, our first attempt to grow an AstroPlant drowned.

‘Too much water’ isn’t a problem you’d expect plants to have in space. But the equipment was set up in such a way that it was watering the plant constantly, rather than at intervals. As you could probably guess, this didn’t go very well.

After a couple of other attempts, neither of which survived more than a week or two, we concluded that our AstroPlant needed more attention than we were giving it. We’re determined to make sure that our latest AstroPlant, a supermarket-bought pre-grown British basil plant, has a fuller life in simulated space. These updates will serve as a record of our experiment, and of what we learn in the process.

We’ve been following the plant’s progress closely in these first few days, in order to pinpoint any problems, so this update is a day-by-day look at its early condition.

On day 1, we installed our pre-grown basil in the AstroPlant system.

In the week since then, we’ve been monitoring it carefully. The AstroPlant setup lets us keep track of the conditions the plant is growing in: air and water temperature, humidity, and the levels of light and carbon dioxide. We’re recording these daily, and the equipment lets us adjust the conditions if the basil isn’t doing well.

On day 2, we were concerned to find that some of the basil leaves seemed to have shrunk, and the plant was looking a little downtrodden.

We wondered whether it was too much of a shock for a grown plant to be moved into these unusual conditions, but we wanted to give it a chance, so we decided to see if making a small change would help.

We had been using water mixed with nutrient solution, but we tried switching it out for pure water, in case the nutrient solution was overwhelming the plant. We also cut off the unhealthy leaves, and the next day, day 3, we were pleased to find that, after a night of recovery, the basil was looking much healthier.

We’ve continued to use pure water since then, rather than mixing in nutrient solution.

On day 4, we found a couple of leaves with black spots on them. This was unfortunate; growing plants in an enclosed space is enough of a challenge without the involvement of plant illness. We removed the infected leaves, but the spots had spread to more of the leaves the next day. Fortunately, after we’d taken the second batch of infected leaves off, we found the plant looking clear and healthy on day 6.

Today, on day 7, a week after we installed it, the basil seems to be doing fine! A definite improvement on the swift and unfortunate fate of our first attempt. Let’s see if we can keep it up.

Darwin Innovation Group is a UK-based company that provides services related to autonomous vehicles and communications. If you’re interested in working with us, take a look at our careers page. If you’d like to know how we can help your organisation make use of autonomous vehicles, contact us. You can also follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter.

For more about growing plants in space, return to our AstroPlant page.

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