University scientists lead the conversation on growing the space economy

Matt Gilliham

Professor Matt Gilliham

The University of Adelaide’s Professor Matthew Gilliham is guiding a session on the technologies needed to support long-term space habitation at the Andy Thomas Space Foundation 13th Australian Space Forum.  

The forum, on Thursday 3 March, will bring together over 800 global leaders from space agencies, private industry, government and academia to discuss developments in the international space industry and showcase Australian based initiatives.  

Professor Gilliham is leading research focussed on surviving and thriving in deep space including on Mars, which will involve collaboration across multiple fields of study spanning plant science, engineering, nutrition, medicine, psychology and law. His research is focused on producing sustainable food streams that are nutritious and enjoyable to eat, while requiring minimal energy and water input. ‘Plants for Space’ research can also therefore provide us with novel solutions for more sustainable agriculture here on Earth.  

“International space agencies and private industry are hoping to launch crewed missions to Mars within the next 20 years, but getting spacecraft there isn’t the only issue for the epic three-year round trip,” said Professor Gilliham, Director of the University’s Waite Research Institute. 

“Space horticulture is going to be an absolutely vital component of that effort as continuous resupply from Earth would be near-impossible in the long term."Professor Matt Gilliham, Director of the Waite Research Institute at the University of Adelaide

Food production in situ is key to making space exploration viable. 

“Space horticulture is going to be an absolutely vital component of that effort as continuous resupply from Earth would be near-impossible in the long term,” Professor Gilliham said. 

“A successful mission depends on having happy, well-fed and healthy humans on board who will arrive very much alive and well and who can then stay the course for a return journey or life in an established colony.”

Adelaide scientist Associate Professor Jenny Mortimer with samples of locally found duckweed which she is studying to turn into food for the future. Picture by Naomi Jellicoe, The Advertiser

Adelaide scientist Associate Professor Jenny Mortimer with samples of locally found duckweed which she is studying to turn into food for the future. Picture by Naomi Jellicoe, The Advertiser

While the technology to adapt plants for space is still in early stages, the vision for space horticulture is crystal clear and has been recently published in the journal Current Opinion in Biotechnology by Professor Gilliham and colleague Associate Professor Jenny Mortimer.

The ‘Life Sciences’ session at the 13th Australian Space Forum will include presentations from experts in space horticulture, medicine, food science and integrating these multiple systems together into a life support system. 

The University of Adelaide’s Professor Tat-Jun Chin, who is the SmartSat CRC Professorial Chair of Sentient Satellites at the Australian Institute for Machine Learning, will also facilitate a session at the forum on Space Situational Awareness (SSA). SSA includes the task of mitigating the risk posed by space debris to space assets. 

More information on the Plants for Space research efforts will be available soon, as well as a nation-wide schools logo competition for term two on https://plants4space.com/.

Tagged in Research, Engagement and Industry, School of Agriculture Food and Wine, Agriculture