Kris Kimel, co-founder and chairman of Space Tango, a Kentucky business focused on expanding research and commercial manufacturing in migrogravity for Earth applications, shown here at the International Space Station Research & Development Conference in San Francisco in 2018. Credit: Space Tango

SAN FRANCISCO – Space Tango, a Kentucky startup that develops microgravity research platforms, announced plans Oct. 4 to form a subsidiary focused on the plant biology and properties of hemp.

The new startup, which has not been named, will look for ways to enhance and bioengineer hemp for biomedical applications on Earth. Space Tango attracted new partners for the venture, including Atalo Holdings, a Winchester, Kentucky, company that develops and distributes hemp seeds, and Anavii Market, a Lexington, Kentucky, firm that sells hemp-derived cannabidiol therapeutics.

Space Tango announced the spinoff “to build awareness that we are quickly evolving into more than a space service company,” Kris Kimel, Space Tango founder and chairman, said by email. “Our plans include a significant focus on product development and value creation. We also want to make the wider biomedical community aware of this in part to raise awareness of microgravity as a new frontier for medical solutions for Earth.”

Some research shows cannabidiol, often called CBD, derived from hemp, offers effective treatment for various medical conditions, including pain and insomnia. Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the psychoactive chemical in hemp’s cousin, marijuana, CBD is not a hallucinogen.

Hemp was outlawed in the United States in 1937. It wasn’t until the Agricultural Act of 2014 removed hemp from the list of controlled substances that U.S. universities and state agricultural agencies began cultivating it legally for research. Since 2014, research related to hemp for fiber, food and medicine has accelerated quickly, according to Space Tango.

Through microgravity research Space Tango seeks to better understand hemp plants. “When we send plants to the International Space Station, we eliminate one core, constant force to which plants are well-adapted – gravity,” Joe Chappell, who chairs the University of Kentucky’s College of Pharmaceutical Sciences and is a member of Space Tango’s Science Advisory Team, said in a statement. “When plants are ‘stressed’ they pull from a genetic reservoir to produce compounds that allow them to adapt and survive. Understanding how plants react in an environment where the traditional stress of gravity is removed can provide new insights into how adaptations come about and how researchers might take advantage of such changes for the discovery of new characteristics, traits, biomedical applications and efficacy.”

Space Tango is raising money for its hemp subsidiary from outside partners and investors. Kimel declined to comment on fundraising goals, but said Space Tango is supporting the subsidiary’s initial work.

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...