Washington, DC – A Texas-based company has received a grant to further research a technology for long-distance space travel.
NASA issued a US$125,000 grant under its Small Business Innovation Research program to Systems & Materials Research Corporation (SMRC) to build a prototype of a 3-D food printing system.
One of the issues for a mission to Mars is having enough food for the trip.
In an article on Quartz.com, Anjan Contractor, a mechanical engineer at SMRC, explains that food needs to have at least a 15-year shelf life for long-distance space travel.
“The way we are working on it is, all the carbs, proteins and macro and micro nutrients are in powder form,” he tells Quartz. “We take moisture out, and in that form it will last maybe 30 years.”
The article says that pizza is an obvious candidate for 3-D printing because it can be printed in distinct layers. This way it only requires the print head to extrude one substance at a time.
Contractor’s “pizza printer” is still at the conceptual stage, and he will begin building it within two weeks.
It works by first “printing” a layer of dough, which is baked at the same time it’s printed by a heated plate at the bottom of the printer. Then it lays down a tomato base, “which is also stored in a powdered form, and then mixed with water and oil,” Contractor tells Quartz.com.
ABCNews.com reports that NASA is actually still in negotiations with SMRC.
Allard Beutel, a NASA spokesperson, did tell ABCNews.com that as the space agency looks into venturing further into space “we will need to make transformation improvements in our life support systems, including how we feed our astronauts during long, deep space missions.”
Beutel went onto explain that SMRC’s 3-D food printing system has “merits in addressing NASA’s advanced food system technology needs as we prepare for long duration human space exploration. In-space and additive manufacturing offers the potential for game-changing weight savings and new mission opportunities, whether ‘printing’ food, tools or entire spacecraft.”
Photo from NASA.gov