By Claire Aiello
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – What will it take to accelerate the plant growth process enough to provide nutritional fresh produce to astronauts in deep space? And how could Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser help in this mission? This type of research is known as “orbital genomics,” and SustainSpace has studied it in depth.
The company won the European Space Agency’s Space Exploration Masters prize for their proposal. The competition was sponsored by the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber and Astrosat, a Scottish aerospace services company.
As part of the prize package, representatives of SustainSpace visited Huntsville the week of March 12-16. Huntsville International Airport provided round-trip tickets, and the group met with aerospace and biotech companies and academic institutions, including the leadership team at Marshall Space Flight Center, HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology and The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH). Additional sponsors include the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and BizTech.
“We have been very encouraged by the local interest in SustainSpace,” said Lucia Cape, the Chamber’s senior vice president for economic development. “The focus of their work really fits with our space science and genomic expertise. This has proven to be a great opportunity for us to promote Huntsville in the international commercial space community.”
We asked the researchers what stood out on their visit.
“Rockets – the Saturn V! I was excited to learn about the legacy of the town because I grew up inspired by the Apollo missions – that’s the reason I became a space researcher,” said Afshin Khan. “I was really, really excited to see what Huntsville is all about and learn about the history.”
“I think people here have a lot of energy, and they do a lot of forward thinking. I’m pretty impressed by that,” said Olivia Mah. “When we first arrived, we went to the Port of Huntsville. They talked with us about the history and how they position themselves. I think that’s very impressive. I mean, Huntsville, all of us just think about rockets, but actually, you guys want to diversify and you have a plan. Everybody works together, everybody knows everybody, and everybody wants to work together, and that is something I did not expect.”
“It’s one of the most forward-thinking airports I’ve ever encountered,” Mark Ciotola added.
“[Our visit] has helped put Huntsville on the map for us in terms of space start-ups,” Ciotola further explained. “It’s always been on the map in terms of space, but now in terms of new space and these types of ventures, it puts Huntsville and Madison County on the map for us.” He said he was impressed to learn Huntsville has 300 aerospace companies in addition to NASA-Marshall.
The Space Exploration Masters Competition is part of the Chamber’s commercial space strategy, which includes the initiative to land the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser at Huntsville International Airport. The Dream Chaser has cleared several milestones recently and was given authority to proceed for a 2020 flight under the NASA Cargo Resupply Services contract. Work continues under the contract to obtain landing permits through the FAA for Huntsville International Airport.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is just one of the articles you’ll find in our April edition of Initiatives, coming soon!