SDL Delivers Low-cost Growth Chamber for ISS to Russians

May 22, 2002

LOGAN — Astronauts living aboard the International Space Station will soon be able to choose between dehydrated food and fresh vegetables harvested from the LADA growth chamber built by the Space Dynamics Laboratory (SDL).

SDL is working with the Russian Institute of Bio-Medical Problems to develop LADA, a small, low-cost growth chamber named after the ancient Russian Goddess of spring. LADA will be hosted in the Russian segment of the Space Station. The Russian team is running final tests at SDL this week, preparing LADA for delivery to Russia for its expected launch to the ISS in Sept. 2002.

"We have worked with SDL and Gail Bingham for over 10-years on many different projects," said Igor Podolskiy, senior scientist for IBMP. "We have had many successful experiments with SDL, including projects on Mir."

The LADA growth chamber is patterned after the Svet style greenhouse that was used for seven experiments on Mir between 1990 and 2000. LADA uses much of the same technology and approaches that were present in Svet, but with lower volume and power requirements. The device automatically controls root zone moisture with the use of sensors.

"A unique feature of this plan is to allow the crew access to LADA to grow vegetables to supplement meals, or for recreational gardening when it is not being used for scientific experiments," said Gail Bingham, SDL LADA program manager.

Mizuna, a plant similar to lettuce and native to Russia, will be the first plant grown in LADA. It is a tall, fast-growing plant that can develop in the growth chamber growing up to 8 inches in three weeks. Shorter, slower growing plants, like tomato, pepper and rice can also be planted in linear rows in the growth chamber.

"This is a very exciting program for our laboratory," said Allan Steed, director of SDL. "With many years of experience working with NASA and the Russians on Mir, the SDL/USU team has become world leaders in growing plants in space."

Several Utah State University students worked on the project as an internship at SDL. They learned firsthand the challenges of plant growth in space by growing Mizuna using many sensors developed for LADA.

"This is a great opportunity for students to gain experience in many aspects of the biological and engineering disciplines," said Ernest Brown, a recent graduate USU interning at SDL.

Jamon Neilson, a recent masters graduate of USU, said that his internship with LADA has provided him with a launch pad for his career in space. He hopes to someday become an astronaut.

Under the Russian plan, LADA will become a permanent fixture on the ISS with new root systems and supplies sent up as needed. SDL and Russia will have joint ownership of the hardware. Experiments using the hardware will be flown as part of the Russian scientific program with USU investigators as partners.

"Working on LADA has provided SDL the opportunity to build a good working relationship with the Russian IBMP team," Bingham said. "It has given our students a tremendous opportunity, we really enjoy working with them."