The aim of the students’ project from the University of Southampton Spaceflight Society is to send a small greenhouse to Mars in which lettuce will be grown using the atmosphere and sunlight on Mars. The team has reached the finals of an international competition, run by Mars One, to land experiments on Mars. It is now one of the ten short-listed university projects (the only UK entry) that was selected for technical feasibility and popularity.
The winning payload will arrive on Mars in 2018 together with the official Mars One experiments. The Spaceflight Society is an interdisciplinary team of under and post graduate students. President and project leader is Suzanna Lucarotti, who said in early December: “To live on other planets we need to grow food there. No-one has ever actually done this and we intend to be the first. This plan is both technically feasible and incredibly ambitious in its scope, for we’ll be bringing the first complex life to another planet. Growing plants on other planets is something that needs to be done and will lead to a wealth of research and industrial opportunities that our plan aims to bring to the University of Southampton, We’ve tackled diverse sets of engineering challenges, including aeroponic system, bio filters, low power gas pressurisation systems and fail-safe planetary protection systems – then integrated them all into one payload on a tight mass, power and cost budget. We can build this here and now.”
The initial 35 entries from a wide range of universities were whittled down to a final group of 10 with the winner being decided by public voting that ended on 31st December. SEED, a multi-national Portuguese/Spanish/Dutch team won with their proposal to take seeds for germination on Mars. Southampton finished third and were disappointed not to win but they felt that as the winning project also wanted to grow plants on Mars the, although the plants are different, the outcome is almost the same. Suzanna said: “This also means that should the winning team run into problems, we can easily step in and build our payload here in Southampton.”