A model of a system for growing plants to plan biological experiments
in space has just left the company of Rovsing, in Ballerup near
Copenhagen, on its way to ESA’s European Space Research and
Technology Centre (ESTEC) in the Netherlands.

The full name of this experiment reference model is European Modular
Cultivation System Experiment Reference Model (EMCS ERM). This will
be used at ESTEC to plan and carry out experiments for growing plants
in space. Then in 2003 the EMCS Flight Model will be flown to the
International Space Station (ISS) where the experiments will be
repeated in space.

A biological laboratory, Biolab SRM (Science Reference Module), is
also being developed at Rovsing and after testing at ESTEC the Biolab
Flight Model will be sent to the ISS.

The core of both models is a climate chamber where the humidity and
composition of the air, temperature, light, water supply and a number
of other parameters will be closely surveyed and regulated. In
addition, the Biolab SRM will have a robotic system to allow samples
to be taken automatically.

For the Danish company the main challenge in both projects has been
developing the electronics and software needed to regulate the
environment in the climate chamber and to collect data for the
biological experiments.

Why does ESA want to grow plants in space? The first reason is purely
scientific as new knowledge can be gained about the growth process
in plants by growing them under microgravity. The second reason,
however, is much more practical; if astronauts are to be sent on
long missions, such as an expedition to Mars, they will need to grow
their own food in space to ensure their survival.

Related links

* Rovsing (DK)

More information

* Human Spaceflight website

* ESA’s ISS homepage

Biolab (artist’s impression). This self-contained biological laboratory
will be part of the larger Columbus European laboratory on the
International Space Station.